Week of July 14, 2014

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Summiting Everest: Money is a deadly thing.  

An examination of the world of Everest sherpas on. Everest had its most tragic day this year (16 sherpas died in a avalanche of massive proportion, even for Everest), which threatened to shut down the industry for the season. The entire culture up there at high base camp, with expeditions costing as much as $100K, and the sherpas earning relatively little, has created a precarious situation for such a high risk adventure. – PAL

Source: “Climbers Leave Everest Amid Regrets and Tensions Among Sherpas”, Bhadra Sharma & Ellen Barry, The New York Times (4/24/14)

Supplemental – A trailer for an excellent documentary I saw earlier this year about the growing tension: http://vimeo.com/78597417


Back to Back to Back to…Gone?

If you’re a sports fan, you’re familiar with Tom Emanski and his instructional baseball videos. “Back to back to back AAU National Champions!” The throw from center into the trashcan at home plate. And, of course, Fred McGriff, in a goofy hat, lending his endorsement. I must have seen those commercials a thousand times. The images, and the name, are burned in my memory. But I knew nothing about Tom Emanski, the man. Where’d he come from? How did he get into the business? How DID he get a big league slugger like Fred McGriff to make a fool of himself in a commercial (I was a bit surprised on that one)? And more importantly – where is he now? Fox Sports kicked off its Grantland competitor, “Just a Bit Outside”, this week with a bang – including this fascinating read. -TOB

Source: “Pitchman: How Tom Emanski Changed the Sport of Baseball – and Then Disappeared”, Erik Malinowski, Just a Bit Outside (07/17/14)

Note: There are some of you who might not know about Tom Emanski, but there is a large chunk of us (20-32 years-old), that have these instructional video commercials burned into our being. Yet another example of how nerds rule the world. Bonus: I never noticed that the iconic throw from the outfield into the garbage can bounces THREE times, and once on the mound..couldn’t they have used a kid with a better arm for this? – PAL


Home.

As we all know, LeBron announced his return to Cleveland last Friday in a well-written piece for Sports Illustrated. Since then, far too many words have been written about his decision. I read a lot of them, so you didn’t have to. This was my favorite. -TOB

Source: “The Long Game”, Seerat Sohi, Sports on Earth (07/14/14)

Note: 1) This notion that an athlete owes anything to a place is absurd. LeBron didn’t owe Cleveland/Ohio anything when he left, and he didn’t owe them anything when he considered the eventual return. Let’s say this mega-hyped high schooler is a bust – would the Cleveland Cavaliers owe him a second contract because LeBron is from Ohio? 2) I’ll buy a beer for any 1-2-3 Sports! follower who can make a legit argument that any athlete in the past 25 years had more power than LeBron James has now with the Cavaliers (yes, including Jordan). David Griffin, the GM of the Cavs (hired on May 14) may as well have “Assistant to the Traveling Secretary” on his business cards. – PAL


Deion Sanders’ charter “schools” were a mess from the beginning.

You ever heard of Emmanuel Mudiay? Probably not, but he’s listed as one of  the best (if not the best) high school basketball prospects from the 2014 class. He’s not going to Kentucky. He’s not going to Duke. He’s not going to UNC. He’s going to Europe, and he’s going because his high school was a joke (through little fault of his own). Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep schools were a disorganized mess intended on bringing in the best athletes from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The only problem – aside from some shady financial records – is that the school failed to comply with Texas Education Codes. In other words, the athletes the school recruited are unlikely to be eligible for college athletics. And that’s why Emmanuel Mudiay is going to Europe to play ball. Great work with the kids, Deion. – PAL

Source: “Deion Sanders’s Disaster Of A School Is Being Shut Down”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (7/16/14)


Chuck Taylor: International Man of Mystery

Like the aforementioned Tom Emanski story, this is another story about a guy with a familiar name, but not a very familiar story. This story (available in text and audio) is about Chuck Taylor, whose signature shoe, the Converse All-Star, has remained fashionable over many generations. -TOB

Source: “Meet Chuck Taylor: The Man Behind the All-Star”, Doug Tribou, Only a Game (07/12/14, originally aired/posted 11/02/13)

Note: Favorite factoid from this story: Nike acquired Converse in 2003 and sold 2 million pairs of the Chuck Taylor All-Stars. The 2011 figure: 70 million. Nike knows how to market shoes. – PAL


123 Q&A

Q: “It looks like there’s some sort of movement for the San Francisco Giants to retire Will Clark’s number. Believe me, I love Will Clark more than any player ever, but for some reason it’s not a no-brainer for me. He was really good with some strokes of greatness, but should teams retire players’ numbers just because we really liked them?” – Thrilled by Will, aka R. Rowe, San Francisco

A (TOB): Excellent question, Thrilled. Will Clark was an instant fan favorite in San Francisco. On the first at-bat of his career, he a hit a home run off in-his-prime Nolan Ryan. Before I dig deeper into his career, let me say this – my impression of Will is that he’s not a Hall-of-Famer, and Baseball Reference’s Hall of Fame Predictor backs that up – but he was actually better than I thought. I thought that Will Clark’s career started out with a bang, and petered out a bit after he left San Francisco. A look at the numbers, though, shows something a little different.

Clark was a career .303 hitter over 15 seasons. The bulk of those were with the Giants and Rangers. In eight seasons with the Giants, he hit .299/.373/.499. In five seasons with the Ranger, he hit .308/.395/.485. Not a significant difference (and his slugging took a little dip) – but it does show some bias on my part. Once he left the Giants, he was more or less out of my consciousness, but actually got a smidge better, and he was actually an incredibly consistent hitter throughout his career. Unfortunately for Will, the middle of his career coincided with the earnest beginning of the Steroid Era – and while Will’s numbers were still very good, they didn’t look as good in an era of bloated offense. To illustrate that – Will made five All-Star teams and finished in the top five of MVP voting four times (including a second place finish) in his eight seasons in San Francisco. After leaving San Francisco, though, he made one All-Star team and never again finished in the MVP top ten, despite having basically the same numbers he had in San Francisco.

Does his remarkable consistency, over a long period of time, give him some boost? Probably. But while that might make him closer to a Hall-of-Famer than I thought, we can’t really look at his time after leaving San Francisco to determine whether the Giants should retire his number.

As noted above, his resume with the Giants is even better than I thought – the four top five MVP finishes is pretty fantastic. The relatively short tenure is troublesome. However, there is some precedent. The Giants retired Monte Irvin’s number (he played just seven of his eight major league seasons with the Giants, all in New York), Orlando Cepeda’s number (he played just nine of his sixteen career seasons with the Giants), and Gaylord Perry’s number (he played just ten of his career twenty-two career seasons with the Giants). Of course, all three of those guys are Hall-of-Famers (despite just eight major league seasons, Irvin played many outstanding years in the Negro Leagues before breaking into the majors).

When I first read your question, my gut reaction was that Will’s number should not be retired. After checking out his numbers, though, and comparing his short tenure with the Giants to other Giants players who have had their numbers retired, I am leaning toward yes.

But there’s one last aspect to this – from all accounts, Will Clark was a dick. And I think that counts, especially in a close case. A few weeks ago, we linked to a first hand account, from a former batboy for the San Diego Padres, about how great Tony Gwynn was. Buried in that story was an anecdote about Will Clark – one day, one of the batboys was wearing an earring, and Will Clark walked by during batting practice and sneered, “Nice earring, f-ggot.” Yikes. If this were a one-off story, it’d be easy to ignore. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard that Will Clark was a less than stellar guy. I interned right after college at KNBR – and an old-timer there told me that Will Clark was racist, and that his racism caused major issues between Will and Barry Bonds in their lone season together on the Giants, which is one of the reasons why the Giants let Will walk.

How does his reportedly less than stellar character play into whether or not the Giants should retire his number? I think it should quite a bit – and in an otherwise very close call, his character issues tip the scales against retiring his number, in my opinion. But if I had to guess, I’d say the Giants will eventually do it. After all, they’ve already welcomed Will back as a team “Ambassador” – essentially he gets paid to hang around the ballpark and greet fans. I’m guessing the retired number is next.

PAL: First of all, what is this – Dear Abby? “Excellent question, Thrilled?” And this dude referred to himself as “Thrilled by Will”…What has happened to this post? Retiring a number doesn’t have to be about numbers and a HOF career. This is why I love this question. Tommy is much better and analyzing the numbers of players than I am, and he’s almost won more than a few debates based off of the numbers. But a retired number is about the relationship between a player and place. It’s gut instinct informed by a casserole of factors. You have an immediate reaction when I ask whether or not Clark’s number should be retired, and in that reaction lies your answer. This is one of those instance where your first instinct is right.

As a Minnesota guy, I know Kent Hrbek is not a Hall of Fame player (less than 300 HRs, career average in the .280’s), but there’s no doubt in my mind #14 is rightfully retired. Untangling all the factors as to why or why not leads you further and further away from the answer: because he was one of our guys. Baseball can be so objective these days…isn’t it nice for something just to remain a feeling?


Video of the Week


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“Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger…and one large fry.”

– Tim Fisher (inspired by SNL)

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Week of July 7, 2014

 

By popular demand, we’ve got a new feature this week – The 123 Q&A. Keep reading, and submit your questions to 123sportslist@gmail.com or on twitter @123sportsnews


The Boys of Section 220

Sometimes, when life gets stressful, I think back to one of the happiest times in my life – the summer during college. I moved back home, as did all my friends. We had zero worries. We played rec-league basketball on Sunday nights, followed by pizza and beer at the local pizza joint (wuddup Steve’s Pizza!). We had weekly poker games, even though none of us were any good. And whenever anyone felt like it, usually thought up late the night before – we drove into Sacramento to see the Rivercats – AAA baseball. We’d sit in the cheap lawn seats in the outfield. We’d drink beer and heckle the opposing team. It was awesome. This experience is hardly unique, and this story is about a group of friends, during the summer after high school, who had season tickets to their local semi-pro baseball team. They went every day. And loved every moment of it.  As the author writes, “This is a story about friendship. This is a story about growing up, and being on the cusp of growing old. This is a story about last chances. This is a story about baseball.” -TOB

Source“Closing Time”, by Ryan Winfield, Deadspin (06/23/14)


The Most Honest Sports Story Ever Written

Toward the end of his brilliant career, Floyd Patterson (the original “Pretty Boy Floyd”) began to lose – badly – like all boxers eventually do (except, apparently, Bernard Hopkins). The two-time Heavyweight Champion of the World was knocked out by Sonny Liston in the first round in consecutive fights in 1962 and 1963, at the age of just 28. The following year, Esquire published this excellent article – a look into the mind of an athlete coming to grips with the end of his career. This story is different than many of this nature, however, because Floyd reveals truths about himself not often seen in sports – especially the ultimate macho sport of boxing –  including this excerpt on why he continued to fight. -TOB

“First of all, I love boxing. Boxing has been good to me. And I might just as well ask you the question: ‘Why do you write?’ Or, ‘Do you retire from writing every time you write a bad story?’ And as to whether I should have become a fighter in the first place, well . . . when you’re hungry, you’re not choosy, and so I chose the thing that was closest to me. That was boxing. One day I just wandered into a gymnasium and boxed a boy. And I beat him. Then I boxed another boy. I beat him, too. Then I kept boxing. And winning. And I said, ‘Here, finally, is something I can do!’ And what were the requirements? Sacrifice. That’s all. To anybody who comes from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, sacrifice comes easy. And so I kept fighting, and one day I became heavyweight champion, and I got to know people like you. And you wonder how I can sacrifice, how I can deprive myself so much? You just don’t realize where I’ve come from. You don’t understand where I was when it began for me.”

Source: “The Loser”, by Gay Talese, originally published in the March 1964 issue of Esquire, re-printed by Deadspin with the Author’s permission (07/18/13)


How 14 Football Players Helped Integrate the Mormon Church

In 1969, 14 football players at the University of Wyoming (“The Black 14”) tried to take a stand against the Mormon church’s refusal to allow African-Americans to be priests. On the eve of their game against BYU, they went to talk to their coach about a possible organized statement against the racist policy. Instead of a discussion, they were immediately kicked off the team. The story garnered much national interest – and pretty much destroyed what had been a surprisingly successful Wyoming football program for good. But more importantly, what those 14 young men went through helped usher real change – by 1979, the Mormon church changed their policy and opened their priesthood to African-Americans. -TOB

Source: “The Black 14: Race, Politics, Religion, and Wyoming Football”, by Phil White, Wyohistory.org (09/17/13)


A Blueprint for a U.S. World Cup Title in 2030

The U.S. made the round of 16 in this year’s World Cup. No small feat. But it is the third time in four World Cups that we’ve made it that far, without advancing farther – and it doesn’t seem like we are any closer to doing so. Although young talents like DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green provided hope for 2018, what the U.S. would really need to do to become a true world soccer power, is start from the ground up. I first read this article at the start of the 2010 World Cup, but it’s worth revisiting. It details how Dutch soccer club Ajax long ago created what has become the blueprint for youth soccer development worldwide. It is a fascinating read – looking at where the U.S. falls short (mainly, too much focus on games and winning, not nearly enough focus on developing skills), and what we might need to do if we ever expect to seriously contend for a World Cup title. -TOB

Source: “How a Soccer Star is Made”, by Michael Sokolove, New York Times Magazine (06/02/10)


123 Q&A

Q: Ryan R., San Francisco: “The Oakland A’s wear white cleats whether their jerseys are home OR away; thoughts?”

 A (TOB): Presently, the A’s are the only team in baseball that wears white cleats both home and away. Before I offer my thoughts, I figured I should answer: Why? So I did a little research. Charlie Finley owned the A’s from 1960 to 1980. In that time, he had a lot of interesting ideas on how to improve baseball. Some were good (night games!); some were awful (monochromatic gold uniforms – the A’s were the Oregon Ducks 40 years before the Ducks were the Ducks); some were ridiculous (he wanted to change baseballs from white to orange); and some were controversial but terrible if you have half a brain (the Designated Hitter). But another idea he had was to change his team’s shoes to white – his reasoning was apparently based on PR – Joe Namath had begun wearing white cleats for New York Jets and gaining a lot of attention for it. Finley hoped to follow suit. Apparently it worked. A lot of people made fun of the white cleats at the time (as they do now), but ultimately many teams copied the look. Eventually the 70’s ended and white cleats went the way of leisure suits – except for the A’s. They have stubbornly stuck with it. In a way, I kind of admire that. It looks terrible, but they don’t care. The A’s do the A’s. -TOB
Counterpoint (PAL): White cleats are disgusting. 15-20 year-olds think they are cool. Cake-eater youth teams wear white cleats. It’s a fact. They are awful. Just awful. White cleats are so bad that they are worse than the following:
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The rope necklace

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The protective hat

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The blinker (back pocket out)

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A.J. Pierzynski

-PAL
TOB: NOTHING is worse than AJ Pierzynski.

Video of the Week:

Mrs. Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies started out as an A’s ballgirl…and she was (Is? Is.) hot. What the hell?

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“You’re killing me, Smalls.”

– Hamilton “Ham” Porter