Week of July 10, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shouldn’t Endowments Be Made For Times Like This? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mound Visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did just that.

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

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

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

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

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

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

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

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

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

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

PAL: A pearl! I will be using that.

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

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


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week

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


Song of the Week

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


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

-Michael Scott

Week of July 3, 2020


A Story About Sports. No, Actual Sports.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Just Because It’s Funny…

JJ Watt is 6’5, 300 lbs. -TOB


Videos of the Week


Tweet of  the Week


 

Song of the Week

Against Me! – I Was a Teenage Anarchist


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

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 26, 2020

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


NASCAR Culture Is Not Exonerated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stop Wearing Toe Shoes

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

*shudder*

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

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

Interesting update. – PAL 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh. Bury it, indeed. -TOB

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


Ole

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

Here is how great John Olerud was in college.

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

“Hot grounder through the six-hole!”

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

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

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

Brayton would keep going.

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

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

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

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

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


The Masses Have Spoken: Centerfield Rips

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

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

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

Not quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

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


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Propagandhi – “The Banger’s Embrace”

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

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 19, 2020

On this day in sports history…


We Don’t Need Sports to Heal

I can barely stomach writing about baseball again. The negotiations between the owners and players are exhausting. But I come here today to discuss something else about those ongoing discussions. Over the past few months, I have seen baseball writers, fans, and politicians expressing some variation of the following:

Commissioner Manfred said it back in March:

“Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back, our players will be back, and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“America needs baseball. “It’s a sign of getting back to normal.”

Agent Scott Boras: 

“Time and time again, baseball has helped our country heal,” he wrote, citing its role after the strike on Pearl Harbor, the 1989 earthquake in Northern California, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo:

“We’re very, very hopeful that we can get going,” he said. “Baseball has stepped up in troubled times to be a leader. We’re used to it. It’s a distraction. It’s comforting to people. It comes with the rhythm of their life.

Baseball, and all sports, are entertainment. But the above sentiment really bothers me. Most of these statements were made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (which is not over, even if you’re over it). 110,000 people have died in this country alone. Baseball would have been a mild distraction, at best. 

But as the Black Lives Matter protests have rightfully raged across the country (and the globe), I can’t help but think that the lack of sports at this time have helped our country reckon with its past, and its present. Governor Cuomo was right: baseball is a distraction. Sports are a distraction. 

But for too long we have utilized distractions in our daily lives to allow us to avoid the problems in our society, in our culture. The silver lining to the dark cloud of the 110,000 deaths of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that we don’t have those distractions right now. We can’t turn the channel to a baseball game and pretend everything is alright. We can’t go to a basketball game, see the melting pot in the crowd, and act like we are all living in racial harmony. We can’t avert our eyes from the pains others are feeling, and have felt all their lives.

This week I read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nahesi Coates. As I read him describe his daily life as a child, the things he had to think about on a daily basis just to survive, it was striking what very different worlds he and I grew up in. We haven’t even begun to rip off the scab of 400 years of racism and oppression. Until we do, we are not ready to heal.

I love baseball. But I don’t need baseball right now. And the country doesn’t, either. -TOB


Nemesis: Heath Bell never game up a home run in 27 innings of work at Coors

We’re back with another installment from Andrew Baggarly’s “Nemesis” collection. It’s a bit different this time, as our subject is a nemesis of a stadium. This is a story about Coors Field’s nemesis: Heath Bell. 

Who’s Heath Bell? He’s a 69th-round draft pick who once entered an All-Star game like this:

And wore his hat like this:

That guy never gave up a home run while pitching at Coors Field. Keep in mind, a big chunk of Bell’s career was with the Padres, a Rockies division opponent. In all, Bell pitched 27 innings and never gave up one gopher ball. Of the 322 pitchers who’ve logged at least 25 innings at Coors, Bell’s the only one who can make that claim. 

Bell confessed that he was as intimidated and uncertain as any other pitcher the first time he walked into the ballpark on Blake Street. But he credited two teammates with giving him the tips he’d need to thrive there.

“We had Doug Brocail in the ‘pen and Greg Maddux was one of our starters,” Bell said. “I remember playing catch and I’m throwing my curveball and it’s not breaking at all. Then Doggy walks up — that’s what we called Maddux — and he comes up all nonchalant like Doggy does. He says, ‘Hey, less is more here. Throw it easier. It’ll break more. Throw it hard and it’ll break less.’ You want to try harder to throw it past guys because you know how the ball flies. But that’s the opposite of what you should be doing.

“But I was still a little scared to do it. So in the bullpen, I asked Brocail, who was someone I talked to all the time. He said if you throw the curveball just below the belt, it will always break. But an inch above the belt, it’ll never break. And if you try to throw your big curveball, the one that comes out of your shoulder and breaks over, that won’t move at all. These guys were such great teammates and they knew from experience.”

Bell worked in a few of his own tricks, too. When the Padres would play the Rockies in San Diego, he’d throw Colorado hitters a ton of get-ahead curveballs for strikes. He was baiting them for those away games.

I love all of that: Maddux’s nickname being Doggy, doing the opposite of what your inclination might be, and especially setting players up in games played in San Diego. All of that is gold. 

Also, in some sick twist, Coors Field is the setting of one of Bell’s worst memories as a player: the Rockies incredible comeback against the Padres in the 2007 play-in game. Bell pitched great (again), but the Padres ultimately lost a wild one on a controversial play at the plate. 

Loving this series. -PAL 

Source: Nemesis: The pitcher who dominated Coors Field still couldn’t escape heartbreak”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/03/2020)

TOB: We need a Maddux documentary. Ten hours, like The Last Dance. Is there a player whose public perception during his career turned out to be more different from reality than Maddux? He came across very vanilla. But the stories that have slowly trickled out over the last few years paint a very different picture. He’s like a Lincecum in sheep’s clothing.


The Tale of the Real Tiger King

This was an extremely fun read. Here’s the intro:

While flipping channels not long ago in desperate search of a sports fix, I stumbled across Tiger King.

No, not that one.

Right there, in the closing credits of “The Rookie,” a few dozen names below stars Dennis Quaid and Rachel Griffiths, was the listing for the guy who played the not-so-memorable role of “Durham catcher.”
https://twitter.com/BrownieAthletic/status/1243738600170237959

That glorified extra was Tiger King. He even had a line — “You wanna warm up?” — and uttered it to Quaid without a single animal trainer getting his forearm gnawed off.

Curious about whether that was Tiger King’s real name, I went to Baseball-Reference. And there he was, the 29th-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1993, an infielder who went on to play two seasons for the independent league Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards.

TIGER KING! The article is basically a series of anecdotes about a guy whose life is almost as bizarre as that of the Netflix star who has borrowed his name. How he ended up in The Rookie is a good example of something that happened to Tiger King that seems unbelievable:

After his minor-league baseball days, Tiger King found a new career as a traffic signal technician. It’s not a job that screams Hollywood but it turned out to be his big break.

John Lee Hancock, who directed the movie, envisioned a scene in which Quaid tested his fastball velocity by firing a pitch past a roadside speed limit sign.

Hancock wanted the lights to fritz and flicker at 76 mph before fully illuminating at 96 mph. (It’s right here in the trailer at about the 1:18 mark.)

Tiger King delivered that speed limit sign to the set. He also taught the crew how to get that flicker effect by touching two wires together.

Then he swung a hell of a trade with the director.

“I’ll tell you what,” Tiger told Hancock, “if you can get me in this movie, I’ll give it to you for free.”

Tiger had himself a deal. He was supposed to be an extra in the baseball scenes but so charmed everyone that he met, including casting director Beth Sepko, that he wound up with a speaking role.

He also became Quaid’s personal catcher off the set, the guy who would warm up the actor before the pitching scenes. Privately, sports-action coordinator Mark Ellis warned Tiger to never, ever, ever throw hard on the return throw. Rule No. 1 in sports scenes is to avoid injury to the A-lister.

“I was like, ‘Alright. Yeah, I won’t,”‘ Tiger recalled. “And every day, we’d be out there and Dennis Quaid would say, ‘Here’s my fastball!’ One out of every three or four pitches is sailing. He’s not an athlete. He couldn’t throw.”

Still, Tiger would pretend as if he were playing catch with Nolan Ryan himself, sometimes shaking his glove in feigned anguish. He’d say stuff like, “Oh that was a good one!” and “That stung a little!” Talk about acting.

In 1994, during the baseball strike, Tiger King was playing on an independent team in Minneapolis. The team ran out of money in August, but twelve players stuck around to play for free, including King.

The funny thing is, the crowds started getting larger. Sympathetic to the players’ plight, especially at a time when MLB was on hold because of the 1994 strike, fans started filling the seats in support.

“And I’m not exaggerating. We had a fish tank set up on the concourse. And we would tell people, ‘Hey, they’re not getting paid. Donate whatever you can,’” Gonzales said. “They’d throw it all in there and we’d split it up between the 12 players every night. They might get $20 bucks, it might be $10, it might be $50. It just depended on how good the crowd was.”

Another desperate-for-cash promotion offered raffle winners a chance to suit up as the “13th Man.” The winner was just supposed to sit in the dugout for the game, but players once cajoled Gonzales into dispatching a 40-year-old Denny’s busboy to the plate as a pinch-hitter.

“And on the first pitch he got drilled in the back,” Gonzales said. “Man, and I thought they were going to have to get an ambulance to get him to first base. He got smoked.”

That was the one and only plate appearance for the guy from Denny’s. He got his cup of coffee.

The whole thing is funny. Big recommend! -TOB
Source: “His Name is Tiger King, and He’s the Best Baseball Movie Netflix Never Made,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (06/09/2020)

PAL: Dennis Quaid can’t throw? I’m shocked, based on this trailer for The Rookie. How do they cast someone who can’t throw for that role in that movie? How?

Tiger sounds like the exact kind of guy you’d want on a team.

Sounds like he was absolutely made for independent league baseball. Love the story about the broken bat, and King hitting the home run, going directly into the stands to ask the kid if the bat was juiced up in any way.

The engagement was cute enough, but – dude – secure the ring!

The summer after my freshman year, I worked as a beer vendor at the St. Paul Saints games. This was before the Twins had their new stadium, so the carrot was always “outdoor baseball”. The stadium was packed most nights. And everyone was primarily concerned with everything but the game. Tailgating was priority 1. Drinking beer was the priority for the rest of the night. Actually, a pretty great way to make a buck as a 19 year-old. Independent baseball does have some magic to it. When you take the seriousness out of baseball, it’s a great way to enjoy a warm summer night.


Press League Softball in Central Park Must’ve Been So Fun

On the surface, this is a bit of a fantasy read for me. In another life, maybe, maybe, just maybe I could’ve been working for one of these publications with a team in the Press League. Maybe I could’ve found myself playing in the Wednesday afternoon games in Central Park. 

Look a little deeper, read a little longer, and you’ll see that the rise and fall of the Press League follows a similar arc to print media. Or, in John Walter’s words: 

The internet killed the Press League, some say. And sure, it’s tough to get away for two hours on a Wednesday if it means a Woj bomb is going to derail your career. Besides, it’s hard enough to play third base without also having to constantly refresh your Twitter feed.

This league seemed like an absolute hoot. Until ringers took over, that is. Every publication would mine the corners of the company for good softball players. Jobs were offered in order to get some much-needed outfield defense. 

Given that on/off-field interplay, careers could hinge on softball prowess. Jimmy Colton went on to be the photo director at Newsweek into the late ’90s, and he played a flawless left field for the AP. Steve (Down the Line) Fine, who held the same job at SI, was a dead pull hitter. After more than a decade of frustration, Fine hired Colton in ’98 as his deputy chief. “Half the reason Steve hired me,” says Colton, “was to lift his batting average.”

Characters, the league was full of characters. Catcher Joe (who looks exactly like you’re imagining right now), Murray Chass (The Bantam Rooster), Butch, and so many more. 

What shines through is a group of (mostly) fellas who loved this little tradition. There is something inarguably awesome about playing in a work softball game on weekday afternoon. To be going to the park while everyone else was stuck at work.

And while there are some absolute gems for anecdotes (like when Al Pacino, playing in the Show League, wore an Armani suit, Gucci loafers, and cheated up in the batter’s box, or the umpire Butch moved the bases back 10 feet in order to make the game go faster), of course the league lost itself in the heat of competition. Ringers started showing up. Guys that didn’t work at any of the publications. Guys who played in the SEC. Guys on World Series rosters. Much like its industry, the Press League became almost unrecognizable to what it began as in the 70s. 

Walters characterizes his story as an “elegy. To a softball league. An industry. A generation.” The entire time reading (and it’s a bit of a slog), I wished I was there in the memories. – PAL 

Source: The Spectacular Rise and Sudden Fall of Print Media … on the Softball Field”, John Walters, Sports Illustrated (06/02/20)


Video of the Week: and the crowd goes…wait.

Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Fiona Apple – “Ladies”


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Look, I didn’t say anything when her dad upstaged me during the ceremony. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 29, 2020


Andre Dawson Is A Mortician?

Yes. Hall of Fame baseball player Andre Dawson is a mortician. Crazy, right? Read this wonderful story from Peter Keating, and you’ll learn that it makes sense. The work, what it requires, fits perfectly in line with how Dawson approached his baseball career. 

He happened upon the mortuary business as a member of an investment group. 12 years ago, there was an opportunity for him to purchase a funeral parlor that was often used by members of the church Dawson attended. It didn’t take long for Dawson to realize the investment required more than money. 

“Do I keep [the funeral home]? Do I sell it? Does the community really need it?” Dawson asked himself. Meeting with local pastors convinced him the answer to the last question was yes — churches worried about losing services from a partner they had relied on for more than two decades. Dawson began to sense that he personally needed to reopen its doors. 

So he got involved. He learned what it took to be good at this next career. Now, Dawson refers to it as “my calling.” 

But Dawson didn’t go out of his way to seek publicity. He rebranded the funeral home as Paradise Memorial rather than using his own name, and he doesn’t speak at most services. It’s Vanessa, outgoing enough that she once considered a career in broadcast journalism, who makes funeral arrangements with most visiting families. Her husband threw himself into all the less visible of aspects of their work. Dawson retrieved corpses from deathbeds. He drove a hearse. (On his first trip, he found himself reassuring the body inside the casket that he would try to keep the ride smooth.) He delivered cadavers to cremations.

“The funeral home business is not about volume,” Brown says. “It’s about controlling the quality of what you do and making it rewarding for the families that come to you and the people who work for you. Andre seems to have found enjoyment in that. Strangest thing!”

Maybe not so strange. Determined, studious and willing to deal with pain, Andre Dawson turns out to be who his fans always thought he was.

Now, as the death tolls rise from COVID-19, and as every element of a wake or viewing changes, Dawson and his team carry on. As he told his staff early on, “It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the service being rendered to this community,” he told his employees.  

No wonder Dawson was the kind of teammate the other fellas named their kids after. Great story. – PAL 

Source: The Baseball Hall of Famer Who Runs a Funeral Home: Andre Dawson’s Second Act”, Peter Keating, ESPN (05/28/20)


Do Not Fall For the Owners’ Bullshit

We discussed this in the abstract a couple weeks back, but this week the MLB owners went even beyond what I would have imagined in their public negotiations with the players union regarding how the finances will work in an abbreviated 2020 baseball season.

To quickly recap: When the start of the season was postponed, the players graciously agreed to prorate their salaries according to how many games are played. In an 81-game season, that’s a 50% pay cut for all players. I say graciously because they did so with almost no push-back, assuming (perhaps stupidly) that they would accept this entirely fair position and not receive any pushback from the owners. LOLLLLL. 

In the last few weeks, the owners floated through trusted media channels that they’d need more of a give back from players due to the fact fans would not be permitted in the stadium. The players said they’d need to see the owners’ books, for the first time ever, to understand if things were as dire as the owners claim. Owners claim they rarely make large profits as is, and that the lack of ticket sales and concessions would be ruinous (When considering the owners’ claim that they don’t make large profits in normal seasons, keep in mind the small market Kansas City Royals were sold a few months back for $1 billion. Do you think people are eager to pay $1 billion for failing businesses? Me neither).

But this week, the owners released their “proposal” and it is a truly insulting offer. Ignore the people arguing it’s an “opening” offer. Remember, they already HAD a deal. And also understand that in negotiations, if your initial offer is so outrageously one-sided, many times people will simply walk away – you are not to be taken seriously. So, without agreeing to show their books, the owners proposed pay cuts as follows:

It would be at that point I would tell the owners to either make a serious offer or we’d be walking away. That is completely ludicrous to the point that I actually think the owners might prefer to skip the season altogether, and so are making an offer they know would enfuriate the players.

But it’s worse than that. The public nature of it all suggests this was nothing more than a bad faith offer intended to get the players to balk, in an attempt to get the public on the owners’ side. As expected, and understandably so, the players were not happy. Here’s Max Scherzer, a member of the MLBPA’s 8-person executive committee with a representative response, and to see if the owners’ were successful in their PR ploy, wade into Scherzer’s replies. Here’s an example:

And another:

 

As I’ve said many times, though, I do not understand why people side with billionaires over millionaires. Yes, the players get paid a lot. But they will be risking their lives, and potentially be separated from their families for months, for a fraction of what they agreed to play for. Meanwhile, the owners will still collect billions with no risk, and without being separated from their families, for sitting on their butts and writing some checks. 

I think the owners overplayed this hand. They have pissed off the players in a way they haven’t been pissed for 25 years, when the last labor stoppage took place. Buster Posey, of all people, tweeted an article by Roger Ehrenberg, a venture capitalist and baseball fan, discussing how awful the owners’ offer was:

The owners flopped a deal that perverts economic logic and fairness in order to win in the court of public opinion and to pressure the players to go along. Stripping things down to their essence, the proposal calls for players on the lowest end of pay scale to get their prorated pay based upon games played, while those at the highest end to get what amounts to 40% of their prorated salary (read: 20% of their annual contract value). So what you have here are the employees being asked to subsidize the owners — the equity owners- of the business during tough times. Not giving up their fair share, e.g., straight proration, but 60% of their fair share. As an investor for more than three decades, I have to say I’m impressed with the owner’s wanton disregard for fairness and the willingness to create the most hostile dynamic possible with their most valuable assets – the players – and using a sports-starved public as a battering ram to have their highly compensated employees look like selfish a**holes. I am impressed — and aghast.

Here’s what Posey said about the article:

If you know Buster, this is an incredibly surprising thing for him to say publicly. He’s practically a PR robot. As Grant Brisbee put it:

If Posey is saying something like that, the players are PISSED. As two agents put it:

“I have never seen a collective response like I’m seeing today from the players,” one agent said. “They are livid.”

Another agent said, “It’s such a shame there is so much distrust on both sides that we can’t be pragmatic adults. There’s no way MLB would think that proposal would get a favorable response from the players. It’s ‘right back at you, screw you.’ And where are we? They’re playing a pretty dangerous game of chicken.”

I get unreasonably angry at fans when they fall for the owners’ crap. Because we really shouldn’t. As Ehrenberger puts it:

Now here’s the important part: take a deep breath, divorce yourself from the sums involved and think about principle…. The owners of baseball clubs own the equity. The club and all of the cash flows associated with its operation are its assets. When someone owns equity, they’re supposed to get the benefit of an increase in asset value, and to bear the loss of a decrease in asset value. With the steady rise in TV revenues and sweetheart stadium deals, team values have generally skyrocketed. During COVID-19, there has been a short-term hit to asset value as ticket sales, ad revenues, merchandise sales, etc. have slowed to a trickle. The owners have fixed costs (like stadium leases and/or maintenance, supporting the farm system and supposedly player contracts) that need to be covered regardless of revenues, so on a cash flow basis the lack of baseball is costing them real cash. But guess what — this is what being an equity owner is — benefiting from the ups but paying for the downs. But that’s not what the owners want — they want their highly compensated employees to cushion the blow, without any return for what is an implicit financing of the owners by these players.

YES. Thank you. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the owners do NOT share in the profits (or skyrocketing values of their teams) when times are good. They should not get to share in the risk when times are uncertain. They make more than you and me, but the players are still labor. Don’t be a tool of the owners. -TOB

Source: Re-Starting Major League Baseball: Motivation and Manipulation,” Roger Ehrenberg, Medium (05/27/2020); MLB Proposal Made, Players Now Have Say Over Restart,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (05/26/2020)

PAL: To our readers: isn’t it great when TOB threads together a topic through several articles like he does above? 

The exercise of removing the sums of money is a great point on Ehrenberg’s part. The sums are a distraction. Could be wrong, but people get mad at the players because guys like Max Scherzer and Buster Posey get to live the dream a lot of us had as children, and there’s some residue of anger that their lives were able to stay on some trajectory set in a childhood dream millions shared while a lot of people began their drift towards anonymous mediocrity. That residue isn’t a lot – you don’t even notice it most of the time – but every now and again we’re reminded it’s there.


Roy Halladay’s Battle 

10 years ago today, Roy Halladay threw a perfect game, and that wasn’t even undoubtedly the highlight of his career. Before reading this, I forgot just how excellent Halladay was, After reading this, I learned how much trouble Halladay tried to navigate throughout his life. This story from John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera serves as another reminder that we have no damn idea who we are rooting for and what is going on in their lives beyond the field of play. 

No two ways about: this story is a sad one to unwrap, but it’s important to share stories of people who struggle, especially those who we tag, unfairly, as idols. And in that word – struggle – is also something admirable. To struggle means there’s a fight, and Halladay fought against his demons. 

Please read the full story. Here are some moments that have stuck with me: 

On Brandy Halladay recalling her first memories of her husband showing signs of addiction: 

It started with chewing tobacco, a habit she says she hated. She’d find the partially empty tobacco tins everywhere — in toolboxes, under plants in the living room, in food boxes in the refrigerator.

Halladay, then in his early 20s, would frequently disappear, alone, into a room in the home he purchased outside of Denver to work on model airplanes or watch TV. It struck Brandy as odd that Roy would lock the door. She recalls one day finding a stack of empty Crown Royal whiskey bags inside the room.

When she confronted him, Roy explained it away, she says, by saying he relished his time alone, unwinding with a few drinks, adding he’d always had a controlled life growing up in a Mormon home and was enjoying his newfound freedom.

On Halladay’s shame of being demoted to the minors and early struggles with addiction:

By then, Roy and Brandy had their first son, 6-month-old Braden. They spoke of buying a home in Florida because Halladay was too ashamed to show his face in Colorado, she says.

That night, Brandy drove to the bookstore and bought Roy a book she now credits with saving his career and their marriage. The now-well-worn copy of “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, has few highlights or handwritten notes from the pitcher, but one passage is marked with a single pen stroke in the column:

“Pitchers must have a clue,” it reads. “One must know something is breaking if he is to keep it from shattering.”

Rich Dubee, Halladay’s pitching coach in Philly, on the kind of heart the star pitcher had: 

To this day, every day, Dubee wears the Baume & Mercier watch that Halladay gifted to teammates, coaches, clubhouse staffers and front-office personnel after his perfect game 10 years ago.

“We did it together,” the engraving reads on the back of each watch.

A tough read, but an important one, and one that is very well-written. -PAL

Source: Inside Roy Halladay’s Struggle With Pain, Addiction”, John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, ESPN (5/27/20)


Not to Pick on MLB Owners, But…

Just kidding. As long as these rich pricks keep being rich pricks, I’ll happily pick on them. But this one is directed at a specific owner: Oakland A’s owner John Fisher (estimated net worth of $2 BILLION). This week, Fisher announced the A’s will stop paying their minor leaguers, their measly $400 weekly stipend, starting this week. 

This cost saving move will save the A’s oh, about a million dollars.

 

So, are those players free agents now? Are they free to sign with teams that don’t treat their players like shit? LOLLLLLLLL. No. Of course not. 

This is about as disgusting as it gets, A’s. -TOB

Source: Minor Leaguers Make $400 a Week. The A’s Are Cutting Off Payments,” Jared DIamond, Wall Street Journal (05/28/2020)


Video(s) of the Week:

I can’t decide if I’m impressed:

Tweet(s) of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Bobby Womack – “Lookin’ For A Love”


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We’re not supposed to PDA.

-MGS

Week of May 22, 2020


Last Words on the Last Dance

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

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

God, Costas sucks. Anyways.

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

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

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

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


Even Gluttony Couldn’t Stop Jordan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOB: Sherman has some flawed logic; for example:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ownage 

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

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

I’m in on that sentence alone. 

Exhibit A: Rick Monday vs. Tom Seaver. 

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

Monday was unimpressed, even while Seaver humbled other greats: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: Well done, my love.

Holly: To you as well.

Henry: You look ravishing tonight.

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

Henry: Shall we?

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

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

Holly: But what of off days?

(Henry and Holly laugh maniacally)

Holly: To the Mets.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Khruangbin – “So We Won’t Forget


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

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2020

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune


Rule of Thumb: Never Side With Billionaires Over Millionaires

The MLB PR machine is hard at work this week, trying and seemingly succeeding, in one fell swoop, to turn many fans against the players in a brewing dispute: what does a return to baseball look like? More specifically, how do the finances work.

Some things to keep in mind: MLB does not have revenue sharing. In the NBA and NFL, player salaries (collectively) are tied to revenues through the salary cap (and floor). The cap and floor are set each year based on the previous year’s revenue. MLB does not do that. The players make what they make. Owners can spend as little or as much as they want. And if teams make a gigantic profit, they keep it for themselves. And they have – MLB teams have made profits of almost $6 billion dollars the last three years. 

But this year, the owners want things to change. When the season was shut down, the players immediately agreed to prorate their salaries according to the number of games played. Which was an insane give away by the players, if you ask me. The vast majority of baseball revenue comes from TV, and so far there is no reduction in the TV contracts, despite missed games. Plus, these are contracts – the players could have stood their ground and demanded to be paid. But they instead showed their good will by agreeing to significantly reduce their pay.

But that wasn’t enough for the owners. Now they are asking the players to tie salaries for this season to revenue, as they are concerned about the financial hit if games are played without fans (no tickets, no concessions). This would further reduce player salaries for the year, as revenues should be down. 

But remember, the last three years the owners have made almost $6B. So what would revenues be down this year without fans? Fangraphs’ Marc Edwards did some quick math and he came up with this:

Rob Manfred has indicated 40% of revenues are home stadium-related, in line with Forbes’ figure of around $4 billion. As to how that $4 billion figure might be made up, we already have the players discounting their salaries. If, for example, 100 games are played, players are giving up more than $1.6 billion in salaries. As mentioned above, players made amateur spending concessions that come close to $400 million this year. Expenses will likely go down if games are played in empty ballparks or at neutral sites (one estimate was by as much as 40%), and if teams can save even 25% of their expenses, that might mean another $1 billion dollars. Factoring in 2019 team profits of $1.5 billion per Forbes, and the league as a whole might end up turning a profit if they can keep all of their television revenue.

In other words, most teams will either break even, or perhaps lose a little bit. But that is not good enough for the owners, and as I said at the outset, they are trying to blame the players. Do not fall for their bullshit. As Edwards eloquently puts it:

The owners are trying to make the return of baseball about money. They want the reward without the risk because that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to after years of incredible revenue and increasing profits. The players negotiated a deal with the understanding that if it wasn’t safe to play, they wouldn’t have to. For MLB to try to use the fact that it is currently unsafe for fans to attend games as a reason for players to subsidize their potential losses reflects poorly on the owners and the Commissioner. After negotiating a CBA that turned out to be a huge win for the owners, the players knew they would have to wait five years for another crack at the bargaining table. The owners waited five weeks before crying poor.

For the most part, the players want to play. The fans want to watch. The owners are getting in the way with a shortsighted attempt to squeeze a little more money out of the players, a stance that could potentially damage the long-term health of our sport and their business.

Remember this when MLB’s PR kicks into overdrive. -TOB

Source: After Years of Profits, MLB Owners Ask Players to Subsidize Potential Losses,” Marc Edwards, Fangraphs (05/11/2020)

PAL: Good, pull, TOB. Revealing look at the PR game vs. what’s actually taking place, i.e., the math. I’d posit the owners’ PR move relies on fans having more immediate concerns about the health and employment of their loved ones – they won’t spend two seconds wondering how MLB baseball players are at risk of losing money. Set baseball aside, that’s not how the workforce should be treated. Also, as Edwards points out: 

It seems possible that proposing revenue sharing with the players is a way to keep more teams profitable and avoid uncomfortable inter-owner conflicts about how to split up revenue in a tough 2020 season. But it’s not the players’ job to help owners avoid discomfort among themselves. 

It makes me wonder in what other industries is ownership asking for the workforce to carry more than its fair share of the burden.

TOB: Yep, I didn’t even touch on the health issue. Here’s a video of the Rays’ Blake Snell discussing the health issues and how he feels he should get full pay.

Now, I don’t agree with everything the Snell says in the video (though I love how he says it), but I think he makes a lot of good points. And keep in mind, Snell has never made more than ~$500k in a season, despite winning the 2018 AL Cy Young, and was set for his first big pay day this year, at $11M, so he’s not yet even a millionaire. Besides, he’s been on my fantasy keeper league team since he was a minor league prospect and I’ll be damned if I don’t stand by My Guys. He’s a Ron Popeil, dammit!


A Most Impressive Slashline: .202/.289/.266 with 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances

Michael Baumann is one of our favorite baseball writers, and I enjoyed his examination of Michael Jordan, the baseball player. While the general story is that he wasn’t very good – that’s what his stat line tells us – for him to hit .200 is actually a pretty incredible feat. 

First, Jordan hadn’t played a baseball game in 15 years…since high school. And because he was one of the five most famous people on the planet, fans and press wanted to see him play minor league baseball. The fields in the lower ranks – rookie and A-ball – didn’t have the fan capacity or press areas for the Jordan circus, so they decided to plop him in perhaps the hardest level of minor league ball: Double-A.

Per Baumann:  

Double-A is minor league baseball’s weed-out course. Most pitchers in the low minors have either a good fastball or a good breaking ball, but not both, and those who do have good raw stuff are still figuring out how to throw strikes. If a hitter with a pretty swing and good hand-eye coordination is going to struggle with off-speed pitches, Double-A is usually where we find that out. 

Even for players with lots of baseball experience, seeing a big-league-quality curveball for the first time is a lot like seeing an alien. And Jordan was no exception. 

I told my brother about this story, told him Jordan’s stat line, and he asked what I think I could’ve hit in double-A (let’s assume right after college). I think plenty of guys could square up a few fastballs a week, but once they saw me flail at a slider, that would be the end of me. I’d be lucky to hit .200. 

The second factor working against Jordan was his body. Being 6’6” as a position player in baseball is not advantageous. Very few long guys – basketball bodies, with long arms and legs – have fared well in baseball, especially as hitters. Football players playing baseball. Of course there are some examples (Bo, Deon, Frank Thomas played football at Auburn, too). But basketball, especially taller dudes…that doesn’t really happen. 

We’ve probably seen the last NFL/MLB crossover star, but it’s still positively commonplace to see exceptional athletes play both baseball and football. Murray is the most obvious example, though the top pick in the 2019 MLB draft, Adley Rutschman, moonlighted on the football team at Oregon State. The year after Auburn lost Bo Jackson to the NFL, Frank Thomas got to campus and played football as well as baseball. At one point, the Colorado Rockies had both Peyton and Eli Manning’s college backups on their roster—and there are hundreds of other examples. 

But the physical demands of baseball and basketball are so different that it’s extremely difficult to play both at a high level. Basketball players, to paraphrase Jay Bilas, tend to have length. Long arms and legs take up space on defense and make it easier to shoot over opponents or reach the basket on dunks. When it comes to baseball, though, long limbs are really beneficial only for pitchers, who turn that extra distance between the shoulder and the hand into increased angular momentum—in other words, fastball velocity. That’s why the overwhelming majority of baseball-basketball crossovers are pitchers. Mark Hendrickson played in both the NBA and MLB, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate Scott Burrell was once a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners. Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton was a highly regarded pitcher at Notre Dame and a solid prospect in the Orioles system before he chose to play basketball full time. Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Ferguson Jenkins all played high-level college or pro basketball, while basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere played for the White Sox in parts of two seasons.

Looking at Jordan’s swing, the very first thing that jumps out is how uncoordinated his weight transfer is. He looks hesitant, committing only partially to the swing and halting his forward momentum to the point where he sometimes knocks his knees together. He looks like a pitcher, or a baby deer. 

It’s all on display in that video clip above. For someone that redefines what it looked like to play basketball, he’s an awkward deer playing baseball. And yet, being super tall and having not played baseball in a decade and a half, Jordan hit .200 in Double-A. Incredible. -PAL

Source: Actually, Michael Jordan’s .202 Batting Average Is More Impressive Than It Seems”, Michael Baumann, The RInger (05/12/20)

TOB: I’ve always thought his .202 average was good, and as a kid I didn’t even realize that AA often has stiffer competition than AAA (the very best prospects get most of their seasoning in AA, and then get a quick trip to AAA, if they go at all). But I really appreciate how this documentary has caused people to revisit this topic. Because it’s not just good. For all the reasons Baumann and Phil discuss, it was incredible. A person should simply not be able to do that. Consider this example from Baumann:

Current Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was one of the most coveted high school infielders in the nation in 2015. But after skipping the 2016 season, he went 6-for-49 with no extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts at the University of Oklahoma in 2017.

Murray, who again had been a top prospect coming out of high school (something Jordan was not), had one year off (not 15), was playing in college (which is much weaker competition than AA), and he’s maybe 5’10 (but Tinder he’s 6-foot; note: joke stolen from Lil Dicky) (not 6’6 like MJ). 

What makes his year in baseball most impressive is what he did in the Arizona Fall League after the season. The AFL is essentially an all-star season for young prospects. Each team sends 3-4 of its best young prospects to help form a handful of teams. Jordan went, and he hit .252. 

However, I find Francona’s statement that Jordan would have made the majors with another 1,000-1,500 at bats simply astonishing. Even I, a Jordan apologist to the core, never would have guessed that. Of course, I defer to Tito.

One last thing: the decision to start him in AA because of the media and fan capacity is outrageous, and suggests to me the White Sox did not take him seriously at the start of the year. 

PAL: For real, how much more do you trust and love Francona based solely on him having an awesome nickname? 


Good Work, Bauer

Hockey players recognize the name Bauer. One of the biggest major hockey equipment brands is doing its part during the pandemic. Instead of the cage mask, many youth hockey players choose a clear shield (a lot of professionals go with the half shield). As the pandemic spread across North America, the company shifted production to making protective masks for health care workers due to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E). The goal was to make 2.25 million masks at cost for workers in Canada and the U.S. The company saw it as a way to contribute in the short-term. 

Per Helene Elliott: 

March became April, which bled into early May, and the need for protective equipment remains. But what began as a determined, short-term response to an urgent problem has become an example of the best aspects of human ingenuity and adaptability, one of the few positive souvenirs that can be taken from this prolonged and anxious time.

The company, having recognized they won’t be able to meet the demand, posted its designs for any other company to use and thereby avoiding the trial-and-error stage of manufacturing. 

Not a ton to this story, but it made me feel good, and I wanted to share all of you. – PAL 

Source: Bauer’s line shift from hockey equipment to medical face shields is inspiring”, Helene Elliott, L.A. Times (05/14/20) 


Video of the Week:

Stephen A.’s reaction says it all: this take was too fake and obviously an attempt to get attention, even for him.


Tweet(s) of the Week:


Song of the Week: Lee Fields & The Expressions – “Don’t Leave Me This Way”


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Tell him I will give him general specifics tomorrow, okay?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 8, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On The Line: The Disturbing Diets of the Offensive Linemen 

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

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

Joe Thomas:

John Sullivan: 

Alan Faneca: 

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

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

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

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

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


Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds like our guy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Jordan Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to read this book. One more:

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

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

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

PAL: Just going to put this right here…


Video of the Week

The 80s were so goddamn funny.


Tweet of the Week

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


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


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You are a thief of joy. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 1, 2020

50th Anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Kentucky Derby story and the birth of Gonzo 

To a fat whack of our generation, Hunter S. Thompson is the guy Johnny Depp portrays in a movie. Thompson was a very real guy, and – in a way – he invented the style of journalism that is the grandfather of blogs everywhere. Don’t let the drugs, then guns, and the celebrities fool you; Thompson is a literary giant when it comes to journalism. By accident or otherwise, and his story about the Kentucky Derby was the beginning of ‘gonzo’ as we’ve come to know it.  

If you were looking for a story on the actual race, well this ain’t it, boys and girls. Thos ain’t about the results; this is a story about everything surrounding the race, which is to say everything that actually matters at a sporting event. 

Per Bill Shea: 

A sample: “… the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Later, Thompson on how the style came to be: 

“It was one of those horrible deadline scrambles and I ran out of time. I was desperate. Ralph Steadman had done the illustrations, the cover was printed and there was this horrible hole in the magazine. I was convinced I was finished, I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work. So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

And that’s what the profile became: An indictment of sports celebrity endorsement culture, blending whatever insight Thompson could glean from this young French cipher with his own observations. The reader gets a feel for Thompson’s frustrations in trying to interview, report and write a traditional narrative feature profile.

As it pertains to Thompson, the man. I mean, how in the actual hell did he become the voice of a counterculture, pretenders and otherwise: 

Other than a few classes, the auto-didactic Thompson didn’t attend college. A short stint in jail at the end of high school led to a brief Air Force enlistment, where he ended up as sports editor of a base newspaper in Florida. He taught himself newspaper journalism’s basics from library books.

“When he was stuck in the Air Force and miserable that they weren’t going to make him a pilot, he gravitated to the newspaper job. This would be as close as he could be to being a civilian and still be in the military,” McKeen said. “He learned the jargon from a book.”

Thompson also moonlighted as a civilian sports columnist and a pro wrestling promoter while writing for the Air Force (which included an expose on current or future NFL stars such as Bart Starr getting preferential treatment while on military service teams).

After that, he held a series of jobs at small newspapers, ending up in Puerto Rico to write about bowling alleys at one point, where he started a novel that wouldn’t be published for almost 40 years. Thompson spent about a year in South America writing about local politics and culture for the since-defunct National Observer, a gig that earned him praise within the industry and a wider audience.

And, if you really want a treat, then go ahead and read Thompson’s original Derby story here. – PAL 

Source: “An Inside Look at How Sports Shaped Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Gonzo’ Journalism”, Bill Shea, The Athletic (04/29/20)

TOB: I read Thompson’s original Kentucky Derby when Grantland (RIP!) published it in full back in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again.


What It’s Like: Caddieing a PGA Tour Event

I could do that! There aren’t many roles in professional sports that us regulars watch and can honestly think, I could do that, but caddieing a professional golf tournament seems like it would be near the top of the list. And what an odd role. Part navigator, part assistant. A one-man entourage. Guitar tech of the sports world. Such a strange way to make a life. 

I could do that. Maybe. Daniel Rapaport did it, and his story is a great Saturday AM read and a fun break from the 24/7 pandemic news cycle. Rapaport met PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzgerald in 2013. They were both freshmen at Northwestern. Rapaport was hoping he’d claim a spot on the golf team as a walk-on. Fitzgerald, U.S. Amatuer champ, left school after one semester to prepare for The Masters. Since then, Rapaport earned his stripes as a sportswriter while Fitzgerald slowly made his way up the various tours until earning his PGA card in 2018. They grew closer, especially when Fitzgerald would crash at Rapaport’s parent’s place in L.A. when he was in the area for tournaments. 

Rapaport had floated the idea of caddieing long ago, and – after a couple near misses – he got his chance at the legendary Pebble Beach Pro Am. That’s when this story starts to get really interesting. The amount of data that each player and caddie have to process in each shot is pretty incredible. Let’s just say the scorecard clipped to your cart and the books these dudes get aren’t very similar. The practice rounds (which sound like absolute heaven on a golf course) weren’t just for ‘Fitzy’ – Rapaport needed some reps, too. 

My first order of business was figuring out how we’d calculate yardages. There’s a surprising amount of math involved. It’s not difficult math, but there’s a lot of it, and it needs to be done quickly and correctly. The process starts with the tee shot. The tour yardage book gives you a number to every sprinkler head, as well as how many yards uphill or downhill it is. But the yardage is given from the back of whatever tee the person who made the book thinks will be used, so you have to pace off how far the markers are from the back of the box. If they’re using another tee box, that’s another layer.

The more crucial calculations come with the approach shot. The book will list every sprinkler head out there, and the sprinkler heads show a number to the middle of the green. But pros aren’t concerned with this yardage. So you find the nearest sprinkler—say, in this case, it reads 140—and check the book. The book tells you that from the 140 sprinkler, it’s 124 yards to the front, and it will also list the slope. Say it’s six yards uphill—it’s playing 130 to the front edge. You then consult the daily pin sheet, which tells you how many paces on the green the flag is. Say it’s 14 paces on. Now we’re at 144 to the flag. But we’re not trying to land it at the flag. Say we want the ball to pitch four paces short. Now we’re back to 140. On to the wind. Say it’s a bit into the fan. Matt thinks it’s playing five yards more. Now we’re at our number: 145. Last calculation: a start line and a finish line. Then, finally, it’s go time. All that in less than 30 seconds.

I thought I had the hang of it all until we reached the ninth hole, an uphill par 4 that turns slightly right. Matt hit his drive in the middle of the fairway—it’s hard to overstate just how straight Fitzy hits it—and asks me, and me alone, to get the yardage. A test! I ran through the numbers quickly and confidently. I communicated to him that it was playing 158 with a hair of wind in the face, a perfect 8-iron. After he struck the approach, it was clear the ball needed to sit—quickly. Get. Down. Now.It didn’t, and it pitched on the back edge of the green, a solid 15 yards past the pin. He then gave me The Look. Every caddie knows The Look. It’s when your player stares at you piercingly, and you both know that you have just screwed up massively, and someone better just say something already. I looked back down at the pin sheet, and sure as hell, I was looking at the eighth hole, not the ninth.

Love the payoff there. The other big take-away Rapaport left with (aside from eating italian every night because, well, the boss likes italian food), was the mental exhaustion. These caddies aren’t hitting the shots, but they are living and dying on every shot. While their cut isn’t nearly as big as the players, they are winning and losing a lot of money with every shot to which they inform. 

Players always talk about how “mentally tired” they are after a tournament, but I never understood what they meant. I do now. This was the most emotionally invested I’ve been in anything since high school sports. I was nervous as hell on the first tee every morning. I lived and died with every birdie putt. I cringed as he prepared to play a tricky flop shot, and my eyes got huge as I saw an approach fly directly at the flag. I buzzed as we started making birdies, and cursed as we started making bogeys. I was the happiest guy in the world after our Saturday back-nine flourish and virtually inconsolable (just ask my girlfriend) after a bitterly disappointing Sunday.

The story is a bit fat in the front, but a fun read that leaves you with a bit more appreciation for the guy walking next to The Guy. – PAL

Source: I Caddied for a Top-25 Player in the World at a PGA Tour Event. Here’s What It Was Like”, Daniel Rapaport, Yahoo (04/27/20)

TOB: I’m sure Rapaport knows a lot more about golf than I do, but all this told me is that caddying (shouldn’t it be caddying and not caddieing?) is the easiest, most luuuuuux gig there is. It takes very little actual skill – nothing you can’t pick up in 15 minutes. And the reward? The top 50 golfers last year averaged $4.6M in winnings. Rapaport says caddies take 8% (though 10% if it’s a major) – which equates to the average full-time caddy making $368,000 and change. There are 40 weeks a year with a PGA event. I doubt most players play them all. So a caddy makes all that money for 30 or so weeks’ work. Nice gig!

Also, I could not stop laughing at how much he used “we” – “We played the first eight of the final round in even par, which had us creeping up the board on a brutally windy day..when you’re six over for the day through 12 holes, the mind wanders to what could have been done differently: We could have hit 9-iron on 9 instead of wedge, I could have said something different on 10 tee, we could have started that tee shot on 12 more right.” LOLLLLLLLL.


Jordan : Athlete :: King Arthur : Political Leader

Loved this Brian Phillips’ piece on The Last Dance. Thought I’d share it, since I’m pretty sure most of us are watching. Let’s be honest – the Rodman ep was meh, but the stories about the Pistons were so good. 

I love this story because I’d never heard the connection we have to our childhood heroes explained in this way, and as soon as I read it, I thought, Damn; that’s exactly it r

As kids, Phillips’ sister would say that she controlled MJ on the court. Emily wasn’t even a basketball fan, but nonetheless she would tell Brian, “Michael Jordan and I just have a…kind of connection.” It became a bit of a family joke, with their father praising Emily after Jordan made yet another spectacular play (sidenote: my god, the highlights of a young Jordan. I know we’ve seen them before, but his speed, power, grace remain awe-inspiring.)

Phillips explores the truth in their telekinetic joke: 

My sister’s joke about moving MJ around with her mind was only a somewhat exaggerated version of how hordes of basketball fans (and non-basketball fans, and probably fruit flies, though they couldn’t buy Nikes) watched his games in the ’90s. It’s only a somewhat exaggerated version of how we watch great athletes in general—not literally guiding their movements, that is, but somehow participating, hitching an imaginary ride in their bodies. We feel a kind of sympathetic echo of their actions, as if, on some shadow-cellular level, they’re our actions, too.

That lands. I was with Puckett when he tracked Ron Gant’s deep fly in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I jumped when he jumped, and it all mixes together to the point in which it’s difficult to separate my experience from his. The echo on a cellular level…ain’t that the truth. (And – yep – I know you Giants fans are so beyond over hearing about Puckett, Game 6. Too bad.) 

Phillips goes on to also explain the power of Jordan is the simplicity of his narrative, which is the template of the modern sports narrative (after being ‘cut’ from his high school team, he exceeds every expectation, hits ‘every’ clutch shot, and becomes a billionaire). What’s more, he represents the closest to the ideal that we’ve witnessed.

Like any competitive pursuit, sports have always trafficked in the ideal. Here’s the perfect body; sculpt it. Here’s the perfect victory; write a poem about it in Greek. For the most part, though, the ideal remains an abstract concept. People chase perfection but don’t reach it, as a rule. In America in the 1980s and ’90s, though, we decided that we were going to get to see the ideal—the real thing, the source itself, in the flesh. You could write a thesis, probably, on the historical factors that went into constructing that determination. The point is, Michael Jordan gave it to us. He came so close to actually embodying the ideal athlete—he really did hit the buzzer-beaters, he really did seem to move in a different and more beautiful way than other players, he really did seem to hang for an impossible extra beat in the air—that we were able to believe the ideal athlete existed. He was here. He was ours. He was the perfect fusion of capitalism and destiny. He was a living person, but the way we experienced him, he was a basketball player in approximately the same way as King Arthur was a political leader.

That’s some big thinking. An idea that will stick with you for a weekend. And so, as is the case with many examples of great writing, this story is a long path towards a question: is The Last Dance a refresher of the ideal or an unearthing of the humanity in Mike Jordan? – PAL 

Source: Michael Jordan the Story Versus Michael Jordan the Man”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (04/27/20)


How One Trade Got Done

From the public standpoint, there are generally two types of blockbuster trade. The first is the long-rumored, makes so much sense trade that gets discussed for weeks or months before it finally gets done. The second is the one that shows up as breaking news, out of nowhere, on the ESPN ticker.

But either version, a trade usually doesn’t come together quickly. There is a lot of negotiation back and forth. I’ve always wondered how it happens, though I’m sure it’s always different. So I really enjoyed this story on the 2013 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals for a package of prospects, including the then #1 rated prospect, Wil Myers. Executives from both sides go on the record, 7 years later, and it’s a really interesting read. They discuss how they valued the different players involved, the emotional investment for each, knowing when is the time to push your chips in the middle, and even the exact moment the trigger was pulled. 

Inside Moore’s suite was a dry-erase board covered in ink. Moore had written the names of Kansas City’s top prospects. He made his case to his assistants. He crossed off Myers’ name. He crossed off Odorizzi. He crossed off Montgomery and Leonard. Moore pointed to the unsullied names on the board.

“Do we still have a good system?” he asked. Heads nodded. “If we’re going to compete,” Moore said, “we have to make this deal. I don’t know about you guys. But I’m tired of losing.”

Friedman and Moore reconnected. “The tenor of the conversation changed dramatically,” Friedman said. They were speaking the same language.

The two teams left Nashville without a deal done. Moore still needed to convince his owners to take on the contracts for Shields and Davis. He wanted to escape the bubble of the Winter Meetings and reflect. He wanted to gather himself before taking the plunge.

A couple days later, Moore went to a Christmas party with Picollo and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. During a lull in conversation, Moore made up his mind. He pulled out his phone.

“Guys, I’m just going to go do this,” he said. “I’m going to call Andrew right now.”

It’s also interesting to read, 7 years later, because I don’t think this deal gets done now. Myers was the #1 rated prospect. Now, he’s a goddamn Giants-killer, but overall he was disappointing for the Rays, and has been just ok for the Padres. But he was The Next Big Thing, and he was traded for a 31-year old pitcher, with a lot of innings on his arm, with exactly one All Star Appearance and one season in which he received Cy Young votes, and only two years of team control. He was basically Joe Blanton. Prospects are simply valued much higher now, and there is no way a guy like Shields is enough to get not only the #1 prospect, but a few other highly rated guys, too. Still, a very fun read. -TOB

Source: ‘It Was Time to Win’: Inside the Royals’ Trade for James Shields and Wade Davis,” Andy McCullough, The Athletic (04/22/2020)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’


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Stanley’s dedication is no doubt one of the hallmarks of the foundation of the business we’re hoping to build our basis on.

-Michael Scott

Week of April 24, 2020

TOB is Klay at every pickup game.


The Silver Lining to Shelter-in-Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three days later, we were out there again.

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

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

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

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

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


Mike Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Always Watch The Credits (more on The Last Dance)

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

What’s more:

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

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

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

And later:

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

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

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

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

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


I MISS KRUK AND KUIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is NCAA Basketball About to Get Knocked Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For basketball, maybe they adjust to something like: 

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

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

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


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