Week of March 16, 2015

NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship

Don’t Hate The Player – Hate The Game

As someone who doesn’t have a horse in the race, my rooting allegiance was available for the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is the odds-on favorite to win it all and has a chance to be the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated (note: the tournament included only 32 teams in 1976). This article goes beyond the reasons Kentucky will or will not win the title; rather, Sharp makes argument for why as the headline suggests, the team matters. For instance, Coach John Calipari might be hated for recruiting “1-and-done” players, but all the major programs have followed his lead to a lesser degree of success. Furthermore, attracting super recruits is one challenge; getting a group of them to understand that playing as a team ultimately better for the individual player’s future is quite another challenge. And ultimately, the product is more entertaining during a time when the college game has become slow, low-scoring, and devoid of upper-classmen with NBA talent. Taking all of this into consideration, go Wildcats. – PAL

Source: Kentucky Is the Only Team That Matters, Andrew Sharp, Grantland (3/19/15)

TOB: #theyjustjealous. Every other coach wishes he could recruit the kind of talent that Calipari does every year. This is a true story: Kentucky has a guy named Marcus Lee. Lee is a 6’9 PF from the Bay Area. He was ranked as high as #19 in the country out of high school. He picked Kentucky, with Cal as his #2. Lee and his family explained that while they knew he wouldn’t get much playing time at Kentucky, he had a better chance of making the NBA by playing against the one-and-dones at Kentucky in practice every day for four years, than he did as the best player at Cal. Now, I don’t know if I agree with this, but it’s not insane. As I was writing the preceding sentence, I heard Calipari say at halftime of their first round game against Hampton, “It was nice I could get Marcus Lee into the game because (Cauley-Stein) had foul trouble.” Lee, who probably could have helped transform Cal’s basketball program, is a garbage time afterthought at Kentucky (he averages 11 mins and 2.7 points per game). I can’t be mad at that, though. Kentucky is undefeated and outscoring opponents by twenty-one points per game. They beat tournament teams UNC and UCLA by 24 and 39. They beat Kansas (a #2 seed) by 32! They are fun to watch – I hope they meet Arizona in the Final Four (who I think is even more fun). It will be can’t miss television.


Who Am I? (What’s My Name)

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Guillherme Fuck is a college basketball player in Canada. He’s from Brazil. His last name, as you can see, has made some…uncomfortable. But Fuck embraces his name and so should we. I hope he runs for office one day. -TOB

Source: What’s in a Name? Fuck Proud of His”, Ryan McCracken, Medicine Hat News (03/19/2015)


Chalk One Up For The Geezers

With a kiss! Send it in, Jerome! Bill Raftery (73) has one of the most recognizable voices (and catch phrases) in college basketball, so it shocked me to discover he’s never called the Final Four on television until this year. He’s never complained or lobbied for the job, even when he’s been passed over for younger, and in some cases far less experienced candidates. He also represents a group of geezers that have no intention of retiring (I don’t believe the Jim Boeheim “retire in three years b.s. any more than you do). Legendary announcer Dick Vitale (76), SMU coach Larry Brown (74, and damn, did they get hosed in that game or what), and defiant Syracuse coach Boeheim (70) all keep chugging along. Unlike the others, who have reached the pinnacle of their respective professions – Brown is the only coach ever to win both an NCAA and NBA title, Boeheim got a title behind a teenaged Carmelo Anthony, Vitale as the pop culture icon – this is Raftery’s first time to the mountaintop. Good on you, Bill Raftery. You deserve it. -PAL

Source:At 73, a First TV Job at the Final Four”, Richard Sandomir, The New York Times (3/16/15)

TOB: As if Billy Packer for decades wasn’t bad enough, whoever chose Clark Freakin Kellogg over Raftery for the Final Four should be tried for crimes against humanity. And then Greg Anthony after that!? The stated reason of not wanting to break up Verne Lundquist and Raftery is bull. I’m excited for Raftery – I just wish it had happened sooner. At 74, he’s not quiiiiiite the announcer he used to be. Nonetheless, I expect at least one, “ONIONS IN INDY!” at the Final Four. I can’t wait.


One Player’s Pre-emptive Strike Against CTE

As you’re probably aware, 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired unexpectedly this week. Borland had a very promising rookie year. But he walked away, after just one season and less than one million dollars in career earnings, because he was afraid of what the game of football might do to his brain. The news was shocking, especially to 49ers fans, who have experienced an almost comically bad offseason. As you can imagine, a lot of words were written about Borland’s decision. These were two of my favorites. -TOB

Source: Everyone Wants Chris Borland to Mean Something”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (03/17/2015); The Definition of Tough: How Chris Borland Walked Away From His Dream Job”, Bill Barnwell, Grantland (03/17/2015)

PAL: “At this point, it’s about the fact that football destroys some or many of the people who play it, and the consequences of that knowledge.” That’s the best description of where the NFL (and the country) is at with the CTE situation. Now that we have the knowledge, what do individuals do with it? Some players will say, “screw it,” and play anyway, and some won’t. More important to the long-term future of football: what decision will parents make on behalf of their kids? What’s most shocking to me is when I hear retired players who are seemingly healthy and got out unscathed (Herm Edwards is one example) say they would go back and do it again while knowing the risks. Really? You were lucky enough to have made it through the gauntlet once, while other players have suffered horribly, and you’d risk it again? That’s arrogance. Above all, I think Borland displays humility and confidence by walking away now. He’s not foolish enough to think it (CTE) won’t happen to him, and he has the confidence to not define himself by football.  


Crawford’s Web

Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford makes some incredible defensive plays. This article was a great idea by Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic, who sat down with Crawford to break down five of his best. Crawford explains what went through his head, how he made the play, and how he feels watching them now. I enjoyed it thoroughly. -TOB

Source: Giants’ SS Crawford Breaks Down Top 2014 Defensive Gems, Alex Pavlovic, CSN Bay Area (03/18/2015)

PAL: Beer on me for whomever posts a picture or short video of the following (someone take me up on this already, dammit!). Go to your local field (regulations size, folks), stand where the infield dirt meets the outfield grass 20 feet from the third base line, and throw a ball to first base. You’ll find it’s a hell of a long throw. Imagine diving for a ground ball, getting up, and making a throw to first base in time to beat a professional athlete to the bag. Someone please do this. Pat O’Brien, Al Pflepsen, and Ryan Nett, Ryan Rowe – I’m looking at you. In fact, Tommy and I might be cooking up a video series idea to try to recreate the best plays of each month from this upcoming season. You can already file it under comedy. Crawford is a maestro.


The Manhattan Project of College Sports

This week, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, the most influential AD in the NCAA, just pulled a Harry Truman, announcing the college sports atomic bomb. This has been brewing for years, but to hear the Notre Dame AD come out and present it as a viable plan is more than a little shocking. Swarbrick addresses the movement toward paying college players, and how some schools just will not go there (e.g. Notre Dame and Stanford). He proposes a move to two associations. Teams like Alabama and Oregon, who are committed to winning football at all costs, would go in one association. In the other association would be teams like Notre Dame and Stanford, following more of an Ivy League model. He believes that Notre Dame will still command a major TV contract even if they are not playing the other elite teams. I’m not so sure, and this seems like a major gamble for him. Will ND’s nationwide fans continue to follow the team if they move to what will be viewed as a lower division? I also found the placement of my alma mater, Cal, in the same division as Notre Dame as interesting. No doubt, the administration would want to join that league. But Cal just renovated their stadium a few years ago and need to pay off around $300 million over the next 40 years. Can they afford the move to the lower division? I am skeptical. -TOB

Source: Notre Dame AD Has a Vision of Two Collegiate Athletic Associations”, Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports (03/18/2015)

PAL: Let’s say this happened tomorrow. Notre Dame Football would be (more) irrelevant within 3 years, if not sooner. The coach would bolt, and boosters would have Swarbrick canned long before that. Perhaps one example of collateral damage in the eventual payment of college athletes is Notre Dame becoming a note in a sports almanac. Also, you are delusional if you don’t think Notre Dame athletes are receiving “benefits” right now. My advice: Lean into it, Mr. Swarbrick.

TOB: With the rare counterargument: From what I have read, Swarbrick is extremely intelligent and good at his job. It would shock me if, before he went public with this, his message was not run by (1) ND Administration and (2) NBC Sports Execs. I find it hard to believe that this mandate is not coming from his school’s higher ups – ND fancies itself in the rarefied air just below the Ivies, and they truly may not want to go to a pay-for-play model. But, I find it hard to believe they’d also forego the TV money they get from NBC. Perhaps they convinced NBC that they’d still draw ratings (though I think, as Phil said, it would not take long for viewers to tune out).


Video of the Week

This week’s video is another edition of MLB Statcast, where they use science to break down amazing plays. This play is the near-double play the Giants pulled on the Cardinals after the deflection off of He Who Shall Not Be Named’s glove in Game 5 of the NLCS. Click the image to load the video.


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“What kind of person could ever cheer for that Duke team over the Fab Five? Is that someone you would ever want to be friends with?”

-Chris Ryan, Grantland

 

 

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Week of February 23, 2015

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Who wore it best: Madison Bumgarner or Duane Kuiper?


The NFL Combine is Pro Sports At Its Absurdist Extreme

Whenever Matt Taibbi writes for Grantland, it is a treat. The guy has made a living writing on some of the biggest and most important stories of our time – he is smart, funny, and has a way of drawing out the absurdity of every situation. This time, that task was pretty easy, as we were blessed with Taibbi’s take on the NFL Draft Combine. He absolutely laid waste to this ridiculous spectacle that has somehow become a TV ratings boon for the NFL Network. Every year, millions turn on their TV during the middle of the day (or watch the re-airing that night) and watch college aged kids run, jump, and lift weights. It is absolutely absurd. As Taibbi writes: “As live television, the combine is a marathon effort at extracting something out of not too much of anything. It’s 45 hours of watching guys the casual fan has never heard of run wind sprints. You have to be brain-damaged to love it, but millions, including myself, do.” -TOB

Source: “America’s Second-Greatest Reality Show: A Visit to the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis”, Matt Taibbi, Grantland (02/24/2015)

PAL: I’m trying to understand why so many people watch the combine and the draft. The best I can come up with is this: There are phases of fandom over the course of any sport’s season, but these phases are condensed because football is a short season. Whereas in baseball a team can start off 6-15 and you’re still invested as a fan, you more than likely know the outcome of your football team’s year if they start 0-3. There needs to be time for hope, potential, and futures with franchise quarterbacks. The combine and the draft create that time, venue, and show to feed the ignorant bliss central to fandom. Of course, all of this is ludicrous, which is why Matt Taibbi – a writer way above this story – is the perfect guy to pen this piece.


Jocks vs. Nerds, Exhibit No. 782

Here’s a fresh perspective on the analytics “debate” in sports. On February 10, Charles Barkley (now a part of the media), laid into a NBA General Manager, calling him an “idiot who believes in analytics…it (analytics) is just some crap some people who are really smart made up to try to get in the game because they had no talent.” I hope we can agree applying more specific analysis when it comes to quantifying athletic performance isn’t idiotic. In this article, Bryan Curtis offers up this take on what the debate might actually be about: “This clash doesn’t pit a blogger versus a newspaperman in a debate over the value of PER. It pits media versus athletes in a battle over who gets to tell the story of basketball.” That makes a lot of sense, especially since we have more and more former athletes transitioning into the media. Additionally, this story makes me wonder, as fans, what experience we want with our teams. Do we find comfort in the metaphysical, the data, or some combination of the two? -PAL

Source: “Moneyball II: Charles Barkley, the Sports Media, and the Second Statistical War”, Bryan Curtis, Grantland (02/26/2015)

TOB: Good article, but I don’t agree with the premise that this is “Moneyball II”. The war between athletes and media has been going on for as long as the press has covered sports. Even athletes vs. analytics is nothing new. When I first read Chuck’s comments, it reminded me of Joe Morgan’s stubborn and outspoken opposition to baseball analytics, despite the fact that Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer, is actually seen as underrated by the analytics community. They love him. Joe didn’t care. Chuck isn’t quite so resolute. During a panel discussion at All-Star weekend, Barkley was presented with a Grantland article that showed how advanced stats love him. From the article: “Barkley got a big smile on his face. Analytics were suddenly OK, even helpful, when they confirmed something Barkley already knew: He was great.” The latest flare-up is just Chuck being Chuck, and this “new” battle between media and athletes has been going on since before “Moneyball I” even began.


The NCAA Can’t Get Out Of Its Own Way

The NCAA imposed recruiting restrictions on LSU this week. Last summer, LSU signed a player to a Financial Aid Agreement (FAA), with the intent to enroll him in January (in the parlance, this is known as a “Greyshirt”, and allows a player to delay the start of his eligibility clock). But come January, the player decided to attend Alabama instead. Here’s where it gets screwy: the rules allow a school unlimited contact with a player once an FAA is signed. But the player is not bound to the school, and if the player changes his mind and decides to attend another school, the school is punished – ostensibly for too much contact with the player. This is absolutely illogical and insane and thus the perfect example of an NCAA rule. -TOB

Source: “Hefty LSU Recruiting Sanctions May Be Related to Alabama Signee”, John Taylor, College Football Talk (02/26/2015)

PAL: Remember when you were a kid playing at the park with the rest of the kids from the neighborhood and you made up some game to pass the time and ultimately said made up game would fall apart because there’s always that one kid who starts making up rules in the middle of the game? The NCAA is like that kid who always messes up an otherwise fun game.


Hey, Uh, Vivek: Players Are Not Guinea Pigs

Since taking over the Kings, Vivek Ranadive has floated some insane basketball strategies. One that has gone largely  unnoticed, though, is that the team’s NBDL affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, hired David Arseneault, Jr. to implement the Grinnell System (to middling success – the Bighorns are just 14-21 on the season). Grinnell has intermittently made headlines, most notably in 2012 when Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a single game. It appears that management is evaluating this as a possible strategy for the NBA squad, despite the fact that it would not work in the NBA.

Grinnell’s system is simple: (1) only shoot threes and layups, and shoot them immediately; (2) full-court press on defense and try for steals at every opportunity; (3) if your man beats you, let him score and get back to the offensive end; and (4) everyone but the shooter tries to get offensive rebounds. To keep players fresh, they make full five-man substitutions every 2 minutes, like in hockey. As a result, the Bighorns are averaging 140 points and 50 three-point attempts per game.

But the most interesting aspect of this story is how the Bighorn players, hoping to impress someone and make an NBA team, are being treated like guinea pigs. In the article, the players openly wonder if teams will take their abilities seriously – especially on the defensive end. This charade only serves to hurt the players the Kings employ, and to damage their own credibility. Thanks to 1-2-3 Sports! reader Brett Morris for this story. -TOB

Source: “140 Points – But are the Reno Bighorns a Basketball Experiment Too Far?”, Les Carpenter, The Guardian (02/20/2015)


NBA Inside Stuff (Sans Ahmad Rashad)

What’s it like to guard Tim Duncan and get beat even when you know exactly what he’s going to do? What differentiates Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking from other bigs in the NBA? Why does Pau Gasol draw more fouls than DeMarcus Cousins? NBA vet Tyson Chandler breaks down a list of players who “do certain things better than anyone else in the world.” Chandler is great on these assessments, providing specific insights that dig deeper than a player’s natural abilities. Chess matches take place all over the court throughout the game. 1-1 battles within a team game. Sounds like a baseball article. In fact, Chandlers’ assessment reminds me a bit of a July post we had on what makes Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright so tough to hit. – PAL

Source: “Elite Bigs 101”, Tyson Chandler, The Players’ Tribune (02/18/2015)


Video of the Week

Bonus:


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“Lou, give me a milk…chocolate.”

George McFly

Week of February 16, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.59.21 PMThe 49ers’ terrible management has incurred the wrath of The Bird of Death upon Levi’s Stadium.


The Cat’s in the Cradle

As Tim Lincecum’s pitching deteriorated over the last three years, so did his relationship with his father. His dad built the pitching mechanics that led to two Cy Young Awards, but his critiques were no longer welcome, and the relationship between father and son suffered. But after losing his spot in the rotation and making just one mop-up appearance in the Giants’ run to the World Series, Timmy knew he had to make a change. He went back to his father “with (his) tail between (his) legs” and asked for help. His father’s response? “We’ve done this together. Let’s continue to do this together until I’m not here.” Father and son worked hard in the offseason, and will continue to do so during Spring Training. Reading this story reminded me of Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin. On so many levels, I hope the reunion with his pitching coach/father helps Timmy return to form. -TOB

Source: “Tim Lincecum Turns to Father as He Tries to Find Cy Young Form”, Alex Pavlovic, CSNBayArea.com (02/18/2015)

PAL: Going back to his dad is Timmy’s last move. Like everyone in San Francisco, I love and pull for Timmy. The pantry is looking bare, and this is the last idea he has. I’m pulling for him, and I really hope he just lights it up this year.


Curtain of Distraction

1-2-3 Sports! reader Michael Kapp brings us this fascinating story:

As far back as I can remember, basketball fans behind the basket have attempted to distract opposing free throw shooters. They stand, make noise, and wave balloons. In recent years, college student sections have begun printing giant heads of various people – themselves, opposing players, famous people, etc., in the hopes of distracting shooters. It’s unclear that it’s ever been effective. Until now: Last season, Arizona State introduced what they call the “Curtain of Distraction.”Here are some examples:

The novelty of “The Curtain” has garnered a lot of attention. But the strangest thing is that it appears to actually work. Over two seasons, opposing teams are missing around 5-10% more free throws at ASU than in their other games. The New York Times performed a statistical analysis and found that:

“Taken together, the data suggest that something changed to affect the accuracy only of free throws, only by visiting teams, only when those teams were visiting Arizona State, and only after the Curtain of Distraction was introduced. Statistics can never fully prove a causal link, but this case is pretty strong.”

We will undoubtedly see copycats, which will likely reduce the Curtain’s effect. Nonetheless, pretty fascinating. -TOB

Source: “How Arizona State Reinvented Free Throw Distraction”, Justin Wolfers, New York Times (02/13/2015)

PAL: Well, I guess ASU has 3 things to be proud of now – Pat Tillman, John Hughes, and the “Curtain of Distraction” (what a great name). The downside – the players and students still attend ASU. I’m interested to see whether or not this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too bad they aren’t making the NCAA Tournament (currently 14-12 W/L) and given the national spotlight.


Sympathy for the Devil: Alex Rodriguez

We’ve all read stories about falls from grace. I know, I know – everyone is sick of ARod. I’m sick of ARod. He lied about taking PEDs – yeah – but he’s far from the only one. The PEDs are not why people are sick of him. People are sick of him because he’s not lovable in any way. He comes off as a d-bag time and time again. It’s the $400+ million dollars he’ll earn by the end of his career, the picture of him kissing himself in the mirror at the gym, tanning in Central Park, the Madonna relationship (when she was perhaps most insufferable), the popcorn at Cowboy Stadium with Cameron Diaz, the highlights (hair), the pearl white batting gloves…but most of all it’s that smug gaze reserved only for the super-duper rich, good-looking, touched-by-God athletic, tall dude. That guy messed up – twice – and, boy, do we like watching him fall on his ass. So many steroid/PED stories focus on the fall or the subsequent rise; I was captivated by this story because it examines the quiet absurdity of purgatory for an adult grasping for sense of self. He’s Derrick Zoolander – superficially talented, banished, hated, ill-equipped for anything outside of his absurd profession, and seeking answers in ridiculous places while holding out hope for his “Blue Steel” moment. It’s a long story (absolutely worth the read), so I pulled some of the most captivating and bizarre tidbits below. – PAL

  • Barry Bonds throws ARod batting practice in Marin and talks a lot of sh*t.
  • “[H]is stealth hobby is visiting college campuses, that he’s been to nearly 40 so far, that he almost always takes the campus tour, visits the bookstore and buys a sweatshirt and a backpack”
  • “[T]hroughout his decade-long tenure with the Yankees, he tries to buy three custom-made suits for every rookie who walks into the clubhouse.”
  • “In New York he would routinely befriend young artists, leave them tickets at the box office so they could come see him play, and in exchange they had to let him drop by their studios. He’d sit in the corner of some dingy loft for hours, watching some intense kid paint or sculpt or draw, because it inspired him, sent him back to his own studio, the batting cage, with new dedication.”

Source: “The Education of Alex Rodriguez”, J.R. Moehringer, ESPN the Magazine (02/18/2015)


Albert Belle Was a Baaaaaad Man

I vaguely remember this, but it is awesome. In 1999, Albert Belle was playing for the Baltimore Orioles. In this game against the Angels, he had already hit three monster home runs and was coming up in the 11th inning, looking to win the game with his record-tying 4th. Instead, the pitcher throws one near Belle’s head, hitting him with a fastball in the shoulder. The umpire immediately signals that Belle was hit, and sends him to first. But Albert Belle shakes him off! Skip to the 1:16 mark:

You can read his lips, as he lies, arguing with the umpire, claiming the ball hit his bat. Albert was so sure that he was going to win the game, that he would have rather taken a strike than taken a base. Awesome. -TOB

Source: No Hitter Has Ever Been More Terrifying Than Albert Belle in This Game”, Tom Scocca, Deadspin (02/16/2015)

PAL: I forgot about Albert Belle. Seriously. The name has not occupied space in my brain for some time until I saw this story, which is crazy. While this scene takes place when Belle is on the O’s,  I remember him as a member of the supremely talented Indians of the 90s (Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Matt Williams, David Justice, Jose Mesa, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle…jesus!) Belle was the baddest of the bunch, and he definitely scared me the most out of that group. He was really, really good, and a redass to boot, which is captured perfectly here. The video is pretty incredible, too.


Video of the Week

In honor of Cal announcing a home and home series with Ole Miss, we present you this video of fans tailgating at “The Grove”. 1-2-3 Sports! is already planning an RV trip to Oxford in 2019.


Tweet of the Week


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“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.”

-Earl Woods

Week of February 9, 2015

The only Derek Jeter I like is a fat, retired Derek Jeter.

The only Derek Jeter I like is a fat, retired Derek Jeter.

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Legends Lost

Over the last week, two legends of college basketball passed away: Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian. If you are familiar with these two coaches, you might think they could not be more different, but that’s not quite right. Let me back up: I like college basketball now, but when I was a kid I loved college basketball. Guys who were talented enough to leave early (as they do today), stayed 3 and 4 years. Unlike now, you could get to know a team and its players. I watched college basketball every night. I loved the mid-90’s UMass teams with Marcus Camby and Lou Roe; the Kansas squad with Jerod Haase (my hometown hero), Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and Scot Pollard. The Fab Five. But perhaps more than any other teams, I loved the 90-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, with Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, and the 94-95 UNC Tarheels, with Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Those two teams were fun to watch and didn’t really care about fitting a mold, which appealed to me, and still does. Some of that personality can be traced to the two coaches who led them – Jerry Tarkanian and Dean Smith. Tark and Dean were not your typical coaches. Tark stood up and called out the NCAA for its hypocrisy thirty years before it was fashionable to do so, and took a lot of crap over the years because of it. Dean Smith perhaps showed even more guts. When he was in high school in the 1940’s, he helped integrate his basketball team – in a school district that would later become infamous in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Dean would continue to champion racial equality the rest of his life, as well as other issues that made him unpopular in conservative North Carolina: speaking out against the Vietnam War, the Death Penalty, and nuclear armament, among other things. College basketball lost two greats this week. Though they haven’t been coaching in quite some time, I will miss them. I enjoyed these articles looking back on their lives and their careers. -TOB

Source: Dean Smith: 1931-2015”, Charles P. Pierce, Grantland (02/09/15);An Appreciation of Dean Smith’s Life”, John Feinstein, Washington Post (02/08/15); “Jerry Tarkanian: A True Rebel If There Ever Was One”, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (02/11/15)

PAL: I knew about Tark challenging the NCAA, but I had no idea about Dean Smith’s activism. Considering when and where he was doing this, it’s even more impressive, and I better understand why people like Michael Jordan held him in such high regard.


Pimp My Ride Meets Cribs

Daniel Norris pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. When drafted, he was given a $2 million signing bonus. He bought a Volkswagen van, and lives in it. How cool is that? His idea of luxury – French press coffee and an ocean view. You don’t need a mansion for either of those. He climbs, hikes, surfs, and – from what I can tell – excels at being awesome. – PAL

Source: “Meet the pro baseball player who lives in a van”, Johnie Gall, Grindtv (2/5/15)

TOB: A few months ago, Phil told me he was looking for a new car, and in particular that he was looking at a VW Westfalia van. I was all for it. Those vans are awesome. We had a VW van when I was a kid, but not a Westfalia. Phil ultimately bought a taxi cab. None of which is relevant, except to lead into this: I am fully on board with Daniel Norris’ life decisions. In fact, I am really jealous. This dude (1) is 21 years old and (2) has $2M in the bank, (3) is a professional baseball player, (4) lives in a dope van (5) surfs a bit, (6) has a solid beard. He is truly L-I-V-I-N. It’s also Reason #5,988 why baseball is better than football. If a top-10 projected NFL prospect told teams he was thinking of stashing away his signing bonus and living in a van down by the river, he’d fall to the 7th round because he doesn’t “want it” enough.


Remembering Ted Agu

One year ago, Cal football player Ted Agu collapsed during an early morning run, and died shortly after. It was a dark day for Cal football. Ted Agu wasn’t a star: he was a walk-on. I am a borderline-obsessive Cal football fan, and I had heard of Ted, but I was not terribly familiar with him. However, from all accounts, he was an amazing person. If there was a silver lining to this tragedy, it was reading all the stories about what a great person Ted was, and how many lives he affected during his time. On the anniversary of his death, team captain Brennan Scarlett wrote an article in the school paper, remembering his friend and teammate. It is heartfelt and I hope you read it. -TOB

Source: Remembering Ted Agu”, Brennan Scarlett, The Daily Californian (02/06/15)

PAL: “Ted did not sacrifice one aspect of his life for another.” The more I think about this line, the more I think it’s one of the nicest things that could be said about a person. Agu’s is a sad story that on most days gets pushed through the pipe filled with other sad stories, so it’s comforting to be reminded the legacies of the relatively common of us live on – not only in memory, but in the thoughtful words of a friend.


Who’s Your A.J. Pierzynski: Baseball Players We Hate

Can you tell I’m ready for baseball to start up again? What a perfect conversation-starter to get us ready for Spring Training. John Paschal polls some other baseball writers on the players they loved to hate, and they nail some good ones (spoiler alert: former Giant Brian Wilson makes the list, which – let’s be honest – we all probably knew before his downfall, right?). More than just listing players, I like that the article attempts to answer why we hate players. Are the players we hate the ones that kill our teams, or are they they guys that underperform for our teams? For me, it was never about the off-the-field stuff. It always came down to what they did to the Twins combined with an annoying, insignificant detail that I latched onto. The Yankees toyed with the Twins, ending four of their last five playoff runs (the Twins managed to win 2 games – f*&%ing 2! – in those 4 playoff series). So, yeah, Derek Jeter is just the worst. Nice Jordan high top cleats, you tool. Honorable mention: Brett Boone and his highlights. – PAL

Source: “Question for the Ages: Who’s Your Least Favorite Player?”, John Paschal, hardballtimes.com (2/11/15)

TOB: I feel like this article is what 1-2-3! was made for. We are putting out a call: What athlete do you hate? What athlete did you hate growing up? It can be rational or irrational. Tell us who it is, and why at our brand new Facebook page. Show your work.


Subsidizing Professional Stadiums – A Band-Aid for a Head Wound

As some of you might know, I’m completely, totally, and entirely against public subsidies for stadiums. It’s a racket, flat out. Whatever local economic growth and job creation that comes from a stadium being built should be an incentive for the owners and not a negotiation play with the state and local governments. You know, help the community in addition to making money type of thing. Detroit is looking to push the issue by trying to pass an ordinance that will hold developers seeking public funding accountable by hashing out a C.B.A (Community Benefits Agreement). While I understand the reasoning, I’m stubborn. How about this – don’t give them public money to build stadiums! The counter-argument is the team could leave a city that doesn’t need more bad news, but I don’t want to support a team who doesn’t support me. – PAL

Source: “Has Detroit Found An Answer To The Publicly Financed Stadium Scam?”, Bill Bradley, Deadspin (2/10/15)

TOB: In a perfect world, Phil’s wishes would be reality – all U.S. cities would collude and tell professional sports teams to build their own stadiums, or go pound sand. But, the problem is analogous to running a sports team. When you are a coach or a GM of a team, your interest is short-term due to concerns for job security. If you’re a coach, you are going to try to win games at the expense of developing your young players. Young players need time to develop, but they also lose while they figure it out. GMs will bargain with the future of a team in order to help the team in the present. Similarly, local politicians are in a tough spot. If they let a professional team leave, they will be largely despised. If they manage to keep a team who is looking to leave, they are received as a conquering hero (See: KJ). Their duty should be to the public, but on a human level, I get the need to look out for themselves and their families, too. With that said, I appreciate that the leaders of Detroit are at least trying to come up with a compromise – if you want public money for your palace, you better guarantee locals will get jobs to build it. We can build on this.


Sad, Pathetic Day For Little League

1-2-3 Sports! reader Jane Williams sent this story along. Remember the all African American Little League team from Chicago that snatched our imagination last summer on its way to win the U.S. Little League title? Remember how great of a story it was (hell, we even featured them as one of our cover photos). Well, leave it to the adults to screw up a good story about youth sports. Then again, who else craps on youth sports except adults? The morons in charge of the team bent the rules with regards to zoning (read: they had really good players that didn’t come from their district play on the team). They were caught. The title was stripped from the team. It’s a crap situation, but in no way changes my feelings towards the kids. They were great. Some of the adults in charge – not so much. – PAL

Source: “Little League national title stripped from Jackie Robinson West”, Austin Knoblauch, L.A. Times (2/11/15)

TOB: This really pisses me off. I feel for the kids – it is not their fault. They played the games and do not deserve this. However, unlike some, I stand by Little League’s decision: the best way to combat this problem is to deter it, and the only way to deter it is to strip any value from it. Not that this will stop this sort of thing completely – it seems that adults have been trying to game the LLWS system since its inception, but if they let this slide, they would be incentivizing adults to do this in the future.


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week


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“BOOM. ROASTED. Hey, kid. That’s what happens when you hop on them sticks!”

-Thomas O’Brien, Esq.

Week of February 2, 2015

Madbum rocking the Carhartt while slamming suds with Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. No big deal.

Running & Autism: A Perfect Fit For Mikey Brannigan
Remember those “Faces In The Crowd” pages in the old SI magazines? Well, I’ve just found out they’ve expanded the format for the online version, and – man – it is really cool. Instead of the one paragraph description, SI goes all-in with a full article. This month’s feature is especially impressive – a must-read. Mikey Brannigan was diagnosed with Autism at an early age, and it wasn’t until a chance encounter that the family found the perfect outlet for him: running. The simplicity of the sport, combined with a lot of other factors specific to autism, has allowed Brannigan to do more than compete at the varsity level – he excels. He’s on track to be an Olympic hopeful. How cool is that? – PAL

Source: “High School Athlete of the Month: Mikey Brannigan”, Ali Fenwick, Sports Illustrated (2/4/15)

TOB: Enjoyed reading this, and also enjoyed that it led me to finding this – people featured on Faces in the Crowd who went on to famous athletic careers, including Phil’s favorite (/sarcasm), Joey Mauer.


The Basketball Glass Ceiling Has Been Broken in Russia
WNBA players are not paid very much money. I knew this was true, but even the very best players barely get paid over $100,000 a season. To supplement that income, many WNBA players head overseas in the offseason and play in leagues in Europe and Asia. Amazingly, though, they get paid more overseas. A lot more. Take Diana Taurasi. She was the 2014 WNBA MVP runner-up, and she made just $109,500. But in Russia she made $1.5 million. This has been going on for years. The new twist, though, is that Diana Taurasi’s Russian team, looking to protect its $1.5M investment, is paying Diana Taurasi to sit out the next WNBA season, thus keeping her healthy and fresh for her Russian team. This must be very embarrassing for the WNBA, and worse yet is that apparently foreign teams have been trying to get WNBA stars to do this for years. If more players follow Diana’s lead, the WNBA could be in serious trouble. – TOB
Source: “Diana Taurasi’s Russian Team is Paying Her to Skip the WNBA Season”, Kevin Draper, Deadspin (02/03/15)

PAL: A part of me thinks if some Russian oligarch wants to lose $7 million to fund a women’s basketball team for which no one pays to see play, then that’s on him. A part of me thinks that the US market for a professional female basketball player is somewhere between 50-150k – it’s not even in the stratosphere of the NBA, but – hey – it’s a living, right? And then I think about the LPGA (est. 1950) and the Women’s Tennis Association (est. 1973 by Billie Jean King). While Tommy was right – both tennis and golf are individual sports that derive a large portion of revenue from sponsors, consider the following:

  • According to the LPGA official website, 45 women have earned over $5 million in winnings throughout their career.
  • Look at the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) – 30 women have earned over $10 million in their career
    • The Williams sisters have over $80 million in prize money between them!
    • You know how much Billie Jean King won in her first Wimbledon – what amounts to $857.89.

Women’s professional sports is a longview, social endeavor. It requires support, because it’s more than business. Should I have a daughter, and should she excel in sports, I want to live in a place that allows her dream to become a reality.


10 Steps To Buy A Recruit

Wednesday was National Signing Day for college football, so this story is timely despite its publication date. ESPN televises 17 and 18 year-olds doing their version of LeBron’s “The Decision” on this day – the first day for recruits to officially commit to a college. While the relatively recent glamorization of this day doesn’t sit well with me, the under-the-table work of actually getting player X to sign at school Y is pretty interesting, as this step-by-step, first-person account reveals. We all know that illegal benefits are given to top recruits, but I haven’t seen a story about the system of how to do it been laid out this plainly. This isn’t the story of Nevin Shapiro at Miami – this is the story from the guys who are smart enough to not get caught. One other note – the scroller indicates this story is much, much longer than it actually is. – PAL

Source: “Meet the Bag Man”, Steven Godfrey, SB Nation (4/10/14)


Video of the Week

Vine of the Week


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“I call it the goddamned blessed road. I’ve buried friends. I’ve put friends in rehab. I’ve watched marriages dissolve. There’s a lot of collateral damage in this lifestyle I’ve had for 33 years. I’m going to send myself home safely.”

– Tim Flannery

Week of November 10, 2014

former-nfl-receiver-randy-moss


Randy Moss: Everything You Actually Want In Your Athlete

“Some players are so good that rooting against them is pointless. Moss was in that category immediately.” We all love the ‘gamer’ athletes. The guys that just grind out base hits, do all the “little things” right, and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty eeking out a win for our team. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what’s better? Usain Bolt in the last 30 meters. LeBron James in the open court. Randy Moss outrunning everything – the coverage and the ball, then slowing down and jumping 5 feet over the defense to make a catch. Here’s the truth: we don’t care if our favorite athletes are nice, or kind, or hard-working, or good husbands or fathers (assuming they aren’t violent, horrible people). We don’t care at all, because the type of person they are has no impact on our lives. What captivates us is someone doing the one thing he or she was put on earth to do, and to see him or her do it so much better and easier than everyone else. And while Moss definitely was an arrogant piece of work at times, he seems like a pretty grounded superstar that’s transitioned into retirement pretty smoothly. Apparently the key is saving money and fishing a lot.  – PAL

Source: “There Will Never Be Another Randy Moss”, Andrew Sharp, Grantland (11/11/14)

TOB Note: A couple lines from this really stand out for me. “If I find out someone doesn’t like Randy Moss and Allen Iverson, it’s a pretty clear sign we could never be real friends…Randy Moss was the type of player that dads didn’t like rooting for. That made it all the more fun.” This is so true for me. I always liked guys the stuffy media would tsk tsk at, and hated the ones they gushed over. So, of course, I loved Moss (and Iverson).


Moving Forward

Last year, NBA player Ryan Anderson’s life was turned upside down when his girlfriend, Gia Allemand, a former Bachelor contestant, committed suicide after the two had a fight. Ryan was the one who found her. Unlike most suicide-related stories, this one focuses on those who remain, namely Anderson. How does one deal with the grief, guilt, and relationships? Anderson has faced all of these questions head-on, and doing so while continuing to excel on the court. I feel a bit of a personal connection to this story, in a degree of separation sort of way. Ryan Anderson is from El Dorado Hills, where my family moved when I was 16. He’s a few years younger than me, but we have more than a few mutual friends, and I’ve met him a couple times in passing. So I read this with much interest, but it’s great even without those connections – a story of someone being dealt an unfathomably terrible blow, but choosing to get up and keep moving forward.  -TOB

Source: Love, Loss, and Survival”, by Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated (11/13/14)

PAL Note: Anderson handles a nightmare situation with vulnerability, grace, and action. As Tommy mentions, I too appreciate that the story focuses as much on what happens to those close to the person as it does on the act itself.


It’s Time to Pay College Football/Basketball Players

After reading this article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s hard to argue that college sports is not broken, and that it has been for decades. It’s possible to both acknowledge that college sports needs fixing and still be a fan. But things do need to change. For years, I have wrestled with the understanding that football and men’s basketball players (the only consistent positive revenue sports) deserve to be paid, while also knowing that doing so will change those sports (and all the non-revenue sports that rely on those two sports for funding) forever. Well, too bad. These players risk their long-term physical health and get pushed through toward graduation (if they get that far) with a meaningless degree in b.s. majors. It’s time. A few changes are easy:

  • Education standards must be tougher, so that they actually get a meaningful education.
  • The players should be paid. If that means less scholarships for gymnastics, oh well.
  • Coaches’ salaries should be capped. It’s insane that Coach K makes nearly $10M a year while the schools claim they can’t afford to pay players.
  • Revenue-positive sports should be exempt from Title IX restrictions – it makes no sense to count football and men’s basketball, sports that earn the school money and literally pay for those other sports, as expenditures for Title IX purposes.

College sports are broken. But they are fixable. This shouldn’t be that hard. -TOB

Source: College Athletes of the World Unite”, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jacobin Magazine (11/12/14)

PAL Note: Holy sh*t – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked as a groundskeeper at UCLA during spring break. I cannot get over this. I wish I could make the argument that college athletes in revenue-positive sports shouldn’t be paid, and that gymnastics is as valuable as football – that money can’t be the the only metric of value when we’re talking about college athletics – but we are so, so far beyond that point.


Video of the Week

You may have seen highlights of this game before. It is hard to argue that it is not the greatest finish to a high school football game of all-time. A tremendous effort to come from behind on the back of three recovered onside kicks in the last few minutes. Elation, followed by devastation, and some of the greatest lines from any announcer, ever. This version is new – a look back at this crazy game, including interviews with the players, and those announcers, who lived it.


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“God bless you all. And as for you bastards in charge, don’t dream it’s over. Years will come, years will go, and politicians will do fuck all to make the world a better place. But all over the world, young men and young women will always dream dreams and put those dreams into song. Nothing important dies tonight, just a few ugly guys on a crappy ship. The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there’ll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play. But, believe you me, they will still be written, they will still be sung and they will be the wonder of the world. ”

-The Count

Week of November 3, 2014

Who Will Play Robin Ficker In The Biopic?

Robin Ficker is a heckler. A heckler at a game has to be pretty damn clever for me to appreciate him or her. It’s never been my thing, so why the hell is a feature about this nuisance making our top picks this week? Robin Ficker’s life story reads like the slightly lesser version of Forrest Gump. Some highlights from this long but worthwhile read:

  • Ficker would hang out at Muhammad Ali’s training facility and joined Ali on his morning runs.
  • He played a somewhat significant role in Watergate.
  • He is a primary reason why local blackouts no longer exist for sporting events that sell out.
  • He’s a lawyer who played a major role in combating gender discrimination while representing Deborah Drudge (the mother of Matt Drudge).
  • He’s run for public office for the past four decades, with only 1 victory.
  • Charles Barkley flew him to Phoenix for the 1993 NBA Finals in order to taunt Jordan.

I still don’t know what to make of this guy, and that’s what made this story spin around in my head the last couple days. I’m not sure I’d like him, but – man – would I love to go on a run with him and hear some stories. – PAL

Source: “What The Most Infamous NBA Heckler Learned From His Friend Muhammad Ali”, Dave McKenna, Deadspin (11/4/14)

TOB: Last night, Phil and I got to sit courtside at a Cal basketball exhibition game against CSU San Marcos. I’ve never sat courtside before. It was awesome. It’s also sort of frightening. I didn’t talk trash at first, but toward the end (mostly because I was annoyed with CSUSM’s coach, who would scream in the Cal player’s ears and was generally an ass to his players, too) I started to lightly heckle. For example: “Shoot the J! SHOOT IT!” But it’s definitely intimidating sitting that close. So when I read this story I was sort of amazed. Ficker pissed people off so much that he was spit on by both a player and a coach. Isiah Thomas threw a shoe at him! The story about Barkley hiring him to heckle Jordan in the Finals reminds me of the heckler in Happy Gilmore. “You will not hit this putt, JACKASS.”


Rest In Peace, Oscar Taveras

A little bit lost amidst the hoopla of the World Series, was the tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras. Taveras died, along with his girlfriend, in an automobile accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic. Taveras was a top prospect – ranked the #3 prospect coming into the 2014 season – and he oozed talent. Giants fans knew him well. He was called up on May 31st and in his second career at bat, absolutely destroyed a Yusmeiro Petit pitch deep into the right field bleachers. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he homered against the Giants again. He had a sweet swing – it was a big, looping swing. He had his struggles this season, as rookies often do, but he kept flashing that potential – a potential that was not realized. You wonder – what if the Cardinals win that NLCS over the Giants – Taveras would still be alive. It’s a sad thought, but the Cardinals didn’t win and Oscar is gone. Grant Brisbee is one of my favorite writers – he’s funny, smart, and a huge Giants fan. He wrote about Oscar Taveras’ death and it really hit home with me – why the death of someone I never met had me so stunned:

“That hope is gone. You’ll never find the right amount of empathy for someone you didn’t know personally, so there’s no sense beating yourself up over it. But you’re an expert in the kind of hope that Taveras offered to his fans, to his friends, to his family and to himself. It’s gone now, and all you can do is mumble something like “Rest in peace,” even if you have no idea what that really means.”

Rest in peace, Oscar. Whatever that means. -TOB

Source: The Lost Hope of Oscar Taveras”, by Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/27/14)

PAL Note: Brisbee crystallizes something I’ve definitely felt but never identified, which is the sign of excellent writing. “It’s why this is different from the traffic accident you’ll surely pass one day, why it’s different from the news about the young friend of a friend of a friend, why it’s removed from the awfulness you have to step over every day to keep moving. Those are abstract situations. Your brain has to keep them abstract or you’ll collapse. You knew exactly how Taveras was going to make millions of strangers happy, though. You knew exactly how he was going to make himself and his family happy. You could see it. It was familiar. You had the path all plotted out in your head. He deserved that chance. Your brain can’t keep that loss abstract.”


A Statistical Push: Bowl Championship Series vs. College Football Playoff
The college football national champion will be determined by a tournament format for the first time this year, and it might not make a difference. From 1998 – 2013, the national champion contestants (2) were determined by a hybrid of algorithms and polls (a Coaches’ Poll and an Associated Press poll). This year, the tournament teams will be selected by a committee that includes Condoleezza Rice (Stanford), Archie Manning (Ole Miss), and athletic directors from USC and Wisconsin. While contingency plans are in place should the teams associated with committee members be a factor in the playoff selection, the numbers and research suggest how little a difference the playoff approach might make in determining teams that deserve to play for the title. Right or wrong, a tournament format allows for more drama and excitement than a single-game approach, which is the entire purpose of sports. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on “getting it right” in the sports landscape in recent years (instant replay, player safety, fines/suspensions/investigations), and – if I’m being honest – I don’t know if “getting it right” plays a major role in why we love them in the first place. – PAL

Source: “The BCS Wasn’t Any Worse Than A College Football Playoff Will Be”, by Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight (10/28/14)

TOB Note: The selection process shouldn’t be too hard. The top 4 teams seem pretty obvious in most years. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical, because the members of the committee are a complete joke. The list reeks of ridiculous politics and PR. The members include Condoleeza Rice (now a Stanford professor) and a retired Air Force Lt. General. What, exactly, are their qualifications? Andrew Luck’s dad is on there (he’s the Athletic Director of West Virginia). So is Tyrone Willingham, former coach at Stanford. Gee, are we seeing a theme? If you’re keeping score  that is 3 out of 13 members with direct ties to Stanford. The Gods have righted this wrong, though, as Stanford is in serious jeopardy of not being bowl eligible this year and is certainly not in the discussion for the playoffs. Hallelujah! Forever and ever, amen!


There Can Only Be One Winner

Considering we wrote over 3,000 words last week, all of them basking in the glory of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, we should probably say a bit about the Kansas City Royals. This article, written by lifelong Royals fan and Grantland writer Rany Jazayerli, is excellent. Unlike Giants fans, Rany and his fellow Royals fans experienced pain and heartbreak. But does a great job illuminating why we love sports – despite the fact that sports almost always bring pain – because of the feelings of hope and community and shared experiences that are otherwise becoming tougher and tougher to experience as we as a culture otherwise continue to isolate. -TOB

Source: Pain Demands to be Felt“, by Rany Jazayerli, Grantland (10/31/14)

PAL Note: It’s awful but true – “Sports are pain, but pain is something only the living can feel.” With that said, I have to put it to our readers who are Giants fans: Is this how you felt after the Giants lost the 2002 World Series in painful fashion? Did you see the silver lining of community and relevance like Jazayerli, or did you just want to throw up for two months?


VIDEO OF THE WEEK


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“You’re not trying hard enough. Try harder.”

– Random dude at the gym